Knuckle-crackers in the UAE

Andy Sherwood wages war on the country's most irritating sound

The Knowledge

What’s that noise? Is it a child eating Rice Krispies? Or someone trampling over bubble wrap? Perhaps it’s some popcorn coming to life in the microwave? No, it’s the nervous wreck next to me on the bus cracking his knuckles.

As nerve-shreddingly annoying as scraping a fork across a plate or running fingernails down a chalk board, the act of twisting your fingers until they make that horrible popping noise has to be one of the most irritating known to man. We all know the type: some of you will work with them, or even be married to them. You’ll be happily chatting away when, all of a sudden, they start frantically yanking at their hands to make that oh-so-squeamish sound.

The UAE is rife with knuckle crackers and many of the culprits seem to be taxi drivers. And that troubles me. Cracking your knuckles is meant to be a sign of nerves. So what are my cabbies nervous about? Driving me safely around the city?

But it’s not just cab drivers who do it. I’ve had hotel staff, shop assistants, and waiters take time out to start contorting their hands into strange positions, desperately chasing their next hit of crackle-and-pop goodness. The urban myth, of course, claims that cracking your knuckles can lead to arthritis, which, unfortunately, isn’t true.

So if, like me, it drives you to despair, what can you do? I can’t beat them, but I’m certainly not joining them, so I’ve done what every right-minded person does in this day and age: I’ve gone online to have a rant.
There’s a Facebook group called ‘I HATE WHEN PEOPLE CRACK THEIR KNUCKLES’ (note the use of angry capital letters). It had 426 ‘likes’ – it now has 427. Take that, knuckle crackers. I thought listening to my iPod might help, but that just meant I didn’t hear the cabbie ask me which turning to take, so I ended up late for work, and I missed a call from Etisalat telling me they were at my apartment to install my Wi-Fi.

What makes me want to scream even more is that one particular finger-popper has been rewarded for doing it. As an experiment, US medical doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles of his left hand every day for more than 60 years, but he didn’t crack the knuckles of his right hand to see if the habit contributes to arthritis. No ailments formed in either of his hands and he was awarded 2009’s Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine – a tongue-in-cheek version of the prestigious awards – for his ‘hard work’.

Imagine what he could have done with that time instead. Found a cure for cancer. Or watched paint dry. I’m posting him a copy of Time Out’s Eating Out Guide because he clearly needs to leave the house more. Although he’d probably be too busy cracking his fingers to bother picking up a fork.
Andy Sherwood is the editor of Time Out Abu Dhabi. His wife claims he has selective deafness – he wishes it was true.

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