Tossing shoes: How to insult (or avoid insulting) someone in the Middle East

You’ve probably seen this clip or at least heard about what happened. For entertainment’s sake, here it is again: President Bush dodging a pair of shoes flung by a disgruntled Iraqi journalist.

Hitting someone with a shoe or even pointing the soles of your shoes at someone is considered an insult in the Middle East (and in many other parts of Asia as well); feet are the lowest part of the body and considered unclean. It is unclear if President Bush understood the meaning of the shoe throwing incident. I guess if you launch anything at another person’s head, you don’t think too highly of them.

Throwing shoes seems a bit impractical to me – after all, what are you going to wear when it is time to run away? Here is another Middle Eastern cultural no-no that could have been employed: shake hands or wave with your left hand. Next to the feet, this appendage is considered the dirtiest. For desert nomads past and present, the left hand is used for cleaning oneself after nature calls. Therefore, waving or shaking a left hand is traditionally considered unclean.

On the practical side, Bush’s latest misadventure in the Middle East has highlighted some cultural dos and donts that travelers headed to the Middle East might find useful. Remember: don’t throw shoes, don’t wave your left hand, and don’t be named Bush….There, you’re good to go.

Bush Goes Maya

There we were, talking about one of my favorites dudes
gong to Mexico to check out the Maya and another one of my…well, another dude we all know well is also there. President Bush paid a visit
to the ruins of Chichen Itza before heading off with other NAFTA chiefs of state to begin two days of talks in
Cancun. Is this a Presidential Spring Break? maybe. Bush seemed to be in the Spring Break spirit, anyway, donning a
cream-colored Hawaiian shirt (untucked). No world on whether he will be out doing tequila poppers this eve. We can
only hope.