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November 4, 2013

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Picking boogers and strumming guitars

An American expat asks us:

Why do many taxi drivers have one long fingernail? Is it to show they are not manual laborers?

A: Some Chinese men grow their nails long on the pinky finger, which often confuses and sometimes disgusts foreigners. Shanghai Daily interviewed several people who practice the habit and found there are actually quite a few reasons for doing so.

Personal hygiene

Some cabbies said a long pinky nail can help with nose and ear picking, helping to keep both orifices clean.

A taxi driver, surnamed Hu, who is in his fifties, said a long nail is necessary for him to maintain effective personal hygiene.

Hu added that it’s better to dig out boogers and earwax with a fingernail than using a Q-tip or tissue.

A sharp-edged tool

A 56-year-old doorkeeper, surnamed Zhang, said he keeps one pinky nail long and sharp in order to open envelopes.

“Long, sharp nails can also help me to scratch open the outer wrapper of cigarette packages,” Zhang said.

“This way I don’t need to carry a pocket knife.”

Other interviewees talked about using the long nail to pick up coins or even to peel oranges.

Playing an instrument

A junior college student, surnamed Luo, said he grew long nails to play musical instruments like the guitar.

Compared with a guitar pick, Luo said his long nail is better since it connects him with the instrument directly.

He added that the pinky nail is “the least likely to break.”

Wealth, social status and the luck factor

In traditional Chinese culture, long fingernails were a sign indicating a man was wealthy and didn’t have to do manual labor.

An even longer pinky nail was a sign of social status. Imperial court ladies, such as Empress Dowager Ci Xi (1835-1908), were keen on wearing ornate fingernail protectors to highlight their prominence.

According to Chinese physiognomy, a person whose little finger reaches past the last knuckle on the ring finger is supposed to have extraordinary luck when faced with a desperate situation.

If one’s pinky is not long enough, he or she can grow a long pinky nail to counter possible bad luck.



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