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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tidy Fingernails Show Russians' Self-Control

Copies of the new Encyclopedia for Girls sold out before I could get to the stand, so I do not know what the latest Russian word is on females and fingernails, but it is probably rather curt.

"If you want to be becoming, your hands must be pretty as well," for instance. "A woman whose hands are soft and whose nails are well-shaped and carefully painted will always be attractive to those around her. Never let anyone see you put your fingers in your mouth."

How many women are there who, in a moment of crisis or distraction, have never felt the urge to chew on a nail or pick at a cuticle? In Russia, it seems, the answer is many. Russian women have immaculate hands. They do not bite, they do not pick, and they often polish.

A reformed nail-biter myself, I have spent a lot of time observing this all-nation exhibition of discipline and reserve. Even women who look tired and otherwise uninterested in the cult of beauty manage to keep their hands in amazing shape. Russian men, who do not necessarily subject themselves to regular manicures and buffing, nonetheless have for the most part scrupulous nails. They don't bite either.

What is going on? One Russian, contemplating her smooth, rose-tipped hands, said her mother regularly dipped her fingers in iodine to discourage her from gnawing at her nails. This stringent period went on when the person was approximately 10 years old. My parents, probably thinking elemental wizardry too barbaric, tried every psychological trick in the book to keep me and my nails apart, but off I went into the real world a nail-biter nonetheless.

Many Americans share a similar plight. Hypnotism is the latest trend in the search for a cure. It is tidier than iodine, yes, but who knows what evil path the after-effects may take? A nation of zombie ex-biters, gripping anything in sight for fear that their hands might suddenly leap to their lips.

Anyone who has stood in a public Russian bathroom waiting for the sink, and the mirror above it, behind a line of lipstick-wielding women knows that beauty means a lot here. It is not just something you fiddle with at home and forget about for the rest of the day. It takes regular checkups and constant remont.

Think what you will about the end result, but there is something to be said for such painstaking attention to personal appearance. It could be the key to success.

Look long enough in the mirror and you might just find out the secret of the universe. Put your fingers in your mouth and risk losing power that might otherwise be yours.

A beautifully pushed-back cuticle is a dazzling sign of self-confidence and pizzazz. Iodine is available at any local drug store. It's a lot cheaper than hypnotism.