Behavior and Etiquette – Physical Gestures: Head, Feet and the Left Hand
Feet and Head
Big blunders can arise if Westerners are unaware of the significance of the head and the feet in a Muslim culture. Afghans typically sit with legs crossed. Pointing the soles of the feet towards someone is impolite because the soles of the feet (shoe) are considered dirty, closest to the ground, closer to the devil and farther away from God. When in the presence of Muslims, be careful not to raise or cross your legs in such a way that the sole of the foot faces others in the room. It is important to be aware of how the bottoms of your feet are pointed whenever you are in a room with others. Never let the sole of your foot or shoe come in contact with an Afghan person.
Be aware that forcing a Muslim's head to touch the ground may make him an enemy. Muslims only touch their heads to the ground when praying. You may also see Afghans holding their hands up in front of their face. This is to request divine assistance.
Remember, in Afghanistan, and throughout the Muslim world, Afghans use the right hand exclusively for all public functions. These functions include shaking hands, eating, drinking, and passing something to another person. Using the left hand is an insult and, if done in the presence of many others, could bring shame to an Afghan. The left hand serves a specific purpose – hygiene after the use of the toilet. Afghans will cleanse their hands immediately after. In fact, many consider the Western practice of using paper to be offensive, and question how paper can make one sufficiently clean. Some historians believe this may be the reason hand shaking is done with the right hand universally in all cultures.