The (kind of) mystery has been revealed. For those curious expats who were baffled as to why some Shanghai cab drivers have that one pinky fingernail grown out especially long, Shanghai Daily has taken the initiative to interview several people in the city who practice the habit and confirm what many have already witnessed.
While the trend dates back to traditional Chinese culture, many cabbies told the Daily that the long pinky nail is now useful for “personal hygiene”, namely, for cleaning out nose and ear orifices.
One taxi driver, surnamed Hu, who is in his fifties, said in the report that 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.
For some reason, a study done in 2006 found that Asians are more likely to have “dry, flaky earwax” than those from African and European decent, who have the “gooey, stinky type”. So there’s that, if it makes you feel better about exchanging renminbi with your long-nailed driver.
Of course, not all people who practice the trend are (admitting to) doing it for the cleaning of earholes.
One 56-year-old man surnamed Zhang said he uses his long pinky nail for opening envelopes and cigarette packs. Others said they use it to pick up coins and to peel oranges.
A younger interviewee said that he uses his nail as a pick when playing guitar.
In earlier days, a long pinky nail was a sign of social status and indicated that a man didn’t have to do manual labor. It was also believed to be lucky.
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.
It seems, however, that the rewarding social effects of the habit have worn off, as Chinese tourists are now being condemned for the use of long fingernails to pick at various orifices.
[Image via Youtube]