In America, when we want to perform a perfunctory assessment of whether someone is married or not, we scope out the fourth finger on their left hand and check if there’s a ring situated there. In essence, we are investigating if someone did indeed like it, and if they put a ring on it. However, this tried and true method for seeing if you have a shot (romantically) with a particular individual may not play out so seamlessly in some other corners of the globe. Why? Because in some countries and cultures, the wedding/engagement ring is worn on the …wait for it… right finger.
Before delving into this , you may want to edify yourself on the general history of wedding rings, so you fully understand how far back and complicated the whole international betrothal ring routine is.
Ok, let’s start with the basics. In many Western cultures, the ring is worn on the left hand because (according to legend) there is an artery that runs the course of your left arm and channels right into your heart. Hence, once the ring is placed on that prized left digit, an unbreakable, eternal bond is forged between your heart and the person who placed the ring on that spiritually connective finger. It’s quite the cute explanation. So why doesn’t every country adopt this adorable practice? Well, if we can take a break from unbridled nationalism for a moment, we can see that there are several important factors at play in other global territories. Up until fairly recently, all Indian women wore their wedding rings on the right hand for one immutable reason; the left hand is viewed as “unclean.” The right hand is used for fun and positive things, such as eating and squeezing a baby’s cheek; the left hand is used for cleansing oneself after using the restroom… So not the best location for an esteemed and symbolic piece of jewelry. Another group that adheres to the right-ring-hand principle (for a somewhat similar reason) is the Greek Orthodox clan. They keep with Roman rituals in many respects, and the relevant one here is that the left hand is considered to be evil or “sinister.” In the Latin tongue, ‘sinis’ means left, and ‘dexter’ means right. Ergo, the left hand and left-handed people were thought to be not so great; therefore there was no way anybody was putting a lovely ring on that dastardly hand.
Other lands that go along with the right hand wedding band motif are some of the Nordic ones, including Denmark and Norway. Perhaps they are just chilly there and prefer to keep their left hands in their pockets a lot, while the right one conducts all necessary functions of life (just a theory). Moving a few kilometers east, the nations of Bulgaria, Poland and mother Russia still contain entire populations with right-hand-ring bearing peoples. The actual explanation here is rooted in religion. There are a few biblical references to The Lord telling people to put rings on their right hands – and eat yummy fatted calves, rejoice, etc., etc. It appears the devout people of these places aren’t about to break this tradition anytime soon.
Finally, there are some wedding ring idiosyncracies that utilize a custom known as the ‘ole switcharoo.’ In sultry Brazil, both males and females wear engagement rings on their right hands. Once they exchange vows – bam – they switch them over to the left. In the opposite hemisphere, the Netherlands and Germany do the reverse; start with the left, switch to the right (keeping in accordance with the ‘cold left hand theory’…) People of the Jewish faith perform a nifty switch too; the wedding ring is first placed on the index, or pointer finger, because it is the most important. Decorum has the wearer shift the ring over to the fourth finger, after the glass has been smashed and everyone has cheered ‘Mazal!’
While some people are strictly traditional, rigidly adhering to past customs, there will always be a rebellious sect, carving out a unique niche for themselves. As cultures continue to mix and mash, time will tell what wedding ring habits will stay the course and which ones will fall by the wayside. As we collectively revel in the past and explore new and exciting options, only one thing is truly for certain; your grandma wants you to settle down and stick a ring on one of those fingers, darnit.