Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hot Pink Fingernails and Lessons Learned

Act like the sun in love and compassion!
Act like a river in friendship and fraternity!
Act like the night in covering the faults of others!
Act like the soil in humility and selflessness!
Act like dead one in anger and furry!

Either act in accordance with the way you look,
or look in accordance with the way you act!

(Either exist as you are or be as you look.)

Rumi's wisdom lives on and on through his poems and famous quotations.  This poem speaks to me on many levels, but the last line is critical to the topic at hand.  "Either exist as you are or be as you look", which I would summarize to - just be yourself!!

While I would not call myself a "girly girl" I do try to look put together and I enjoy  the occasional (i.e. once or twice a year) pampering manicure.  Before my first trip to Turkey I was running around ragged with split-ends and hang nails.  I had read in Turkey - Culture Smart!  that "When wearing sandals, toenails should be neat and clean.  Turkish women love to have manicures and pedicures." I wanted to make a good first impression, so I thought I'd get myself a little dolled up with a manicure and pedicure the morning before my flight.  I even splurged and did a gel manicure, which stays on for a couple weeks without chipping. 

Oh, but what a mistake that was.

With very limited color choices in the gel nail polish, I tried to find a tasteful pink.  The bottle was no indication of the color inside.  I started to sweat as the manicurist applied the first coat.  I respectfully asked her to switch to a different color after one coat of the first horrid pink.  It was not any better.  I ended up with Barbie-hot-pink fingernails.

The only evidence I have of my poor color choice.  In all the other photos my hands are either strategically behind my back or folded to hide my nails.  
On the drive to the airport I explained to my mom what happened and how I really didn't want to have hot pink fingernails.  "Can you just take it off real quick?"  She asked me.  That was my indication right there of how bad it was - and no, I couldn't just take it off - gel nail polish has to be soaked in acetone for 15+ minutes!  We were driving to the airport!!  Plus, I'd just dropped $30+ bucks on those hot pink pointers, I felt like I needed to at least get a little wear out of them. 

"Well, it is early summer" my mom replied to my sigh, "pink is festive."  So I decided the pink would stay.

The rest of the trip I felt self conscious of these Barbie fingers that were not my own.  H. was even surprised - "why did you paint your fingernails that color? " he asked.  "You usually don't paint them at all."

"It was a mistake!!  And the Turkish culture book said ladies like to paint their fingernails."  I admitted.

I realized how ignorant that sounded the moment I said it - like a thin, 100-page book could really tell me all the cultural norms of a country.  As we went around town, and as we visited families, I noticed that most ladies did not have their nails painted on a daily basis.  In fact one young woman explained that her daughter's fascination with my neon fingers was because she never painted her own finger nails.

While a book like this can provide some solid information on basic cultural norms, it does not represent the many diverse facets of culture that constitute reality, which cannot actually be written in any one book.

I later learned, as the Turkish-Culture Smart! book failed to mention,  that Muslims have to remove their nail polish to perform the pre-prayer cleansing, called Wudu

As explained here in one of the steps:
Wash the right arm  up to  and including  the elbow.  Three times. 
The arm extends from the fingertips, including the nails, to the lower part of the upper arm. It is essential to remove anything stuck to the hands before washing them, such as dough, mud, paint, nail polish etc, that could prevent the water from reaching the skin.

Some Turkish women may paint their nails, some may not, and some may only spend the time or money very occasionally.  Culture is complex - and female fashion and personal preferences of an entire country can not be summed up into one paragraph in a tiny book.

From this experience I learned a lesson about reading too much into "cultural guidance".  I decided to just be myself.  Myself was just fine.

I also learned another lesson.  While I was stressing over how ridiculous I looked and imagining how all of Turkey was thinking I was a stereotypical blond, hot-pink inspired, American bimbo from American Pie - the reality was that no one really cared what my fingernails looked like.  No one judged me by my color mistake at the salon.  Whether I chose to paint my nails hot pink or bright red or black - they would not care.  They took me as I am - they saw through the colors of my hair, my eyes and my nails to see the real me.


  1. A wonderful reminder! I do occasionally paint my nails silly colors, just for fun. And when I do, I am self-conscious in public! I must then remind myself that it is for fun, and if people judge me by my purple/green/orange/pink nails, then it is they who need to learn.

    1. That's a good perspective Lindsay. Plus - you can totally pull off the funky-fun colored nails :-)

  2. Can I tell you that I just about died in laughter reading this post - because that damned book has sent me down a similar hot-pink-nailed path on so many occasions. M. laughs at it and throws it around the room. I, the serious studious academic, must still read and critique it. I had almost exactly the same experience on my first trip to Turkey with a color that was not so good - a glowing copper. I loved this story.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this post! That's so funny that you had a similar moment - copper and hot pint - together we could have been an 80's rock band. I'm staying away from the nail salon for this trip. That silly book - it does provide some good basic guidance, but it generalizes way too much and does not make any warning about this. I was thinking about giving it to family to read before their first trip to Turkey, but I guess if I do I need to make sure to write lots of corrections and comments in the margins.

  3. I loved this post! I was recently contemplating buying this book, but now I've read yours and Liz's comments on it, I think I'll steer clear. I guess it's a message to me to quit relying on books so much...!

    1. Thanks Josephine! I just checked out your blog - it seems like we're both Turkish foodies! I definitely would not recommend that book, but there are many others I've enjoyed! From what I've noticed every book seems to have contradictions based on what I've heard from Turkish friends and my fiancé. I guess it's not that these books are wrong but they capture just a sliver of the cultural pie. I try to take everything I read with a grain of salt and I fact check with others. Cultural learning is hard work!! But so much fun!

  4. vanity; vanity - all is vanity! Be glad you are not a bloke here - they use flame-thowers up your nostrils and down your ear 'oles!

  5. Ha! I agree Alan - all is vanity. I would much prefer a manicure to singed nose hairs - yikes!


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