Sunday, September 21, 2008

solving those mysterious mysteries

One of my favorite parts of travel is interacting with different cultures and coming to know some of their subtleties. But some of those things feel unsolvable, or inappropriate to ask about, and then they become mysteries. One such thing was the inexplicably long nail that many Asian men sport. I never knew really how to broach the subject, I heard all sorts of bizarre rumors about its meaning and felt awkward in bringing it up. That is where having a cultural expert as one of your best friends comes in handy. Michael's 18 month tenure in Cambodia means that she is well versed is almost everything Khmer. Meaning she knew the answer to the mystery of the pinky nail.
So here comes the answer... ready??? you sure? No, it does not signify anything perverse or strange, but is actually a way of showing you aren't a manual laborer. This points out an interesting value in Khmer society, that people want to display the fact that they do not work with their hands. I find this fascinating because it plays into the larger story of how our bodies themselves can be read as cultural texts, many of our culture's values are conveyed through the way we care for and decorate our bodies.
Now if I could only figure out why they prefer pink toilet paper in Central America....

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