What hobbies/occupations can you tell just by looking at someone?
September 19, 2013 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Guitarists get callouses on the tops of their fingers, former ballet dancers stand and walk with a specific alignment, active violinists have a callous under the chin. What are other examples of telltale physical cues and behaviors that can identify what a person does for work, sport, or hobby?
posted by mochapickle to Human Relations (65 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Grease/dirt under fingernails = mechanic.

30 year old hunchback = programmer.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:28 AM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Rodeo Thumb
posted by blob at 8:28 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Motorcyclists usually have a worn area on the top of their left shoe, caused by changing gear.
posted by aqsakal at 8:31 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

All string players have callouses on the pads of their fingers. Cellists also have a callous on the side of their thumb, since that is how they do harmonics.

In college, I could always tell which (male) athlete played which sport by how they walked and looked. The football players had thick necks and massive shoulders; the soccer players always walked very lightly with their toes pointed outward; the swimmers had shaved heads.
posted by Melismata at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Male cyclists sometimes shave their legs. (Well, the women do, too, but it is less of a descriminator.)
posted by Quonab at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2013

Truckers' Tan and possibly Farmers' Tan.
posted by alms at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

String players also always have short nails on the four non-thumb fingers of the left hand. Classical and flamenco guitarists have the short left hand nails and five very long nails on the right hand (for finger picking).
posted by telegraph at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cyclists have razor-sharp tan lines on their thighs. Skaterboarders have ollie holes on their shoes.

Dancers... well, dancers just move like dancers, like water and wind.
posted by entropone at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can always spot a surfer by their posture. They stand straighter and stiffer and their arms are a tiny bit further away from their body but it all looks tightly controlled. I just googled this and there is a study which bears out my observation.
posted by vacapinta at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speed and figure skaters have big thighs.

Swimmers have developed shoulders and very shiny, luminous hair (from the chlorine).

Calligraphers might have ink on their fingers and sometimes even under their fingernails that is hard to remove (looking at you, Dr. Ph. Martin's ink), and copperplate calligraphers might have accidental "tattoos" due to the pointy copperplate nibs.

Bikers have tanned or burned patterns on their hands due to their gloves.
posted by jgirl at 8:38 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zookeepers who wear boots and shorts tend to have a tan from the mid thigh to right below the knee.
posted by tweedle at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2013

Dresses all in black; has a bulging bag that has a clipboard, a heavy script, a first aid kit and a toolbox in addition to a bunch of other very odd things; can keep their attention on three things in the room simultaneously; meticulously double- and triple-checks everything, and always looks a little sleep-deprived - Stage manager.

Okay, that's slightly tongue-in-cheek, but we do all tend to have first aid kits and a really heavily-marked script, and I was told that my ability to carry on a conversation with one person while simultaneously listening to another conversation across the room was "typical stage manager behavior". So too that double- and triple-checking everything - I once wondered aloud to someone at a rehearsal why I had the feeling I was forgetting to do something, even though I'd checked everything over a few times, and they said "that's the natural state of mind of a stage manager. Embrace it because it will save your ass one day." (It did.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Some) archers have one arm bigger than the other.
posted by pipeski at 8:43 AM on September 19, 2013

Lots of the answers to this question would apply.
posted by dr. boludo at 8:45 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Small marks on a person's arm - they'll be round and about the size of a pea, give or take - where the top layer of skin is gone. They look indented, slightly (for the longest time I thought this was flesh-eating bacteria or something, when I was younger). These are an indicator that someone works in food service. They're spatter marks from the hot oil of a fryolator.

Bicyclists tend to get a specific kind of tan line: Their forearms and the backs of their hands will be tanned or sunburnt, but their fingers will be comparatively pale. This comes from holding on to the handlebars - only their arms and the backs of their hands are exposed to the sun.

If someone has an unusual amount of scar tissue (composed of small straight lines usually, but sometimes it just looks a bit like hamburger) in the area of their face between the eyebrow and temple (probably on both sides, but some people favor one side over another), they are very likely to be a professional wrestler.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:47 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drawing callous
posted by RobotHero at 8:49 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Harder to notice, but seamstresses and tailors may have a small notch in one tooth from biting off sewing thread.
posted by Zozo at 8:49 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mothers of toddlers almost always stand with their spine shifted to one side (and one hip thrust out), which is the side they usually carry the toddler on. They mostly all have back pain from this. My doctor friend who pointed this out to me can also guess which side most people carry their purses or laptop bags on, from a similarly hitched shoulder.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:50 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

"With few exceptions, all the players have similar builds -- big muscular legs, shallow chests, skinny necks, and one normal-size arm and one monstrously huge and hypertrophic arm." - David Foster Wallace's description of professional male tennis players. (Note that this since this was written in 1996, tennis pros have generally become more muscular. Not too many shallow chests and skinny necks left.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:51 AM on September 19, 2013

People who march or teach drum corps have intense tan lines, often from tank tops or sports bras, but always, unless their skin is very dark to begin with, the mother of all sock tans.
posted by clavicle at 8:57 AM on September 19, 2013

(Some) archers have one arm bigger than the other.

I do archery and I dispute this for three reasons: One is that one arm is pushing the bow forward while the other arm is pulling the arrow back. So, they are both working. The second reason is that if you are doing it right, most of the work is being done by your chest muscles, not your arms. Finally, its about control not raw strength. Olympic archers don't have bigger muscles than average.
posted by vacapinta at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Both Annie Sullivan and Polly Thomson, who interpreted for the deaf-blind Helen Keller, had one hand that was considerably larger ("and sinewy") than the other.
posted by Melismata at 9:00 AM on September 19, 2013

Cellists also have a callous on the side of their thumb

...as do 5-string banjo pickers (unless they always use finger picks).
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on September 19, 2013

People who row crew in a bigger boat -- with only one oar per person -- often walk with one shoulder higher than the other.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got Pizza Driver Tan -- left arm from shirtsleeve down, plus left leg from kneecap to hem of bermuda shorts but NOWHERE else -- when delivering, and I expect it is the same for most professional drivers.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:07 AM on September 19, 2013

Most potters who work on a wheel have larger forearms than expected. And many will have callouses on the pinky side of their hands.

Former gymnasts also have similiar posture to dancers and run on their toes. I had been running regularly on a treadmill at my gym a few years ago and girl asked me where I used to train. I was confused and she clarified, "What gymnastics coach did you train with?" I explained that I wasn't local and had been a gymnast decades ago in another state. I asked her how she knew and she said, "Your run. On your toes and slightly pointed. Absolutely shit for running long distances but it looks pretty."

I'm still trying to run less pretty and more efficiently and it's been over twenty years since I last competed.
posted by teleri025 at 9:12 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Another fairly surefire identifier of former/current dancers is super fucking jacked-up gnarly feet with demon eagle toes.
posted by elizardbits at 9:20 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some welders will have sunburns in places where you wouldn't normally expect them — inner forearms, especially — from the welding arc, although as it's become more common to wear good PPE it's sort of an amateur-hour thing rather than something you'd expect in someone doing it as a career.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:35 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bakers and some other kitchen workers often have a row of burns on their forearm from reaching into the oven and hitting a hot rack.
posted by entropone at 9:48 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My father works in a pressroom (the actual place where ink is put on newsprint). They use really harsh soap to remove the really harsh ink from their skin, so ink ends up in the cracked dry parts of the hands. They all look like they have spiderweb tattoos on their hands, even after a long vacation.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:50 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I once dated a martial arts instructor, and I could spot him across the room by the way he dropped into ready stance without realizing it.

I also once spotted that a college acquaintance had worked at a restaurant over the summer break because she was carrying her lunch tray at shoulder height, supported by one flat hand.
posted by telophase at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more that I remembered! My husband and I went to South Wales a couple of years back, and hired a guide to take us around the area for a couple of days. He told is that you could tell the old miners by the way coal dust had settled into scratches and cracks in their faces and, essentially, tattooed thin blue lines on them.
posted by telophase at 10:10 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zookeepers who wear boots and shorts tend to have a tan from the mid thigh to right below the knee.

This is a soccer tan, too! It looks pretty great.
posted by randomnity at 10:53 AM on September 19, 2013

posted by Fuego at 11:22 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anyone who works or has preschool children - as a parent and as a teacher of 5 year olds I always had one knee of my pants wear out faster than the other from constantly crouching to one knee to interact with little kids.
posted by tracicle at 11:33 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

People who ride horses all day may have a bow-legged stance.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:35 AM on September 19, 2013

Oh, and non-serious bicyclists like me have, if not a rolled-up pant leg, then a pant leg that is frayed and stained with chain grease.
posted by clavicle at 11:47 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Most of the serious surfers I know around where I live have a wetsuit tan- a horizontal point on their neck where a tan suddenly starts.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:49 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zookeepers who wear boots and shorts tend to have a tan from the mid thigh to right below the knee.

And park rangers/BLM rangers in the Southern California deserts seem to have this, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:51 AM on September 19, 2013

I know this isn't really an answer, but rather apropos -- from A Study In Scarlet - AC Doyle

"You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan."

"You were told, no doubt."

"Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran, 'Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.' The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished.

Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. By a man's finger-nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuffs—by each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable."
posted by timsteil at 11:53 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Zookeepers who wear boots and shorts tend to have a tan from the mid thigh to right below the knee.

I used to get this too, working on my parents' farm wearing cutoff jeans and tall rubber boots.

I've noticed myself holding pencils the same way I'd hold a clarinet, which I used to play. It made me wonder if people who played other instruments did the same thing.
posted by Starling at 12:25 PM on September 19, 2013

Here's a common type of cyclists' calves. Emily Chappell also mentions the cycle courier tan!
posted by lokta at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2013

More callouses: palm ones for trapeze and rowing, inside of right thumb for clarinettists.
posted by lokta at 12:35 PM on September 19, 2013

My own version of the archaeology tan. I got used to wearing gloves all the time due to the PPE standards of many sites I worked on in London.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2013

(Some) archers have one arm bigger than the other.

Fencing is another asymmetric sport.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:48 PM on September 19, 2013

When you hold the sword in kendo, the very bottom of the hilt is held firm by the pinky and ring finger of the left hand, but it still has a bit of motion through the thousands of swings at any given practice. This tends to give people that do kendo a small round callous on the palm-side of the knuckle for their left pinky. Sometimes you'll also get ones at a similar place for other fingers, but the pinky one is the most prominent.
posted by Schismatic at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2013

Cyclists often also have callouses over the ends of their metacarpals on the palms of their hands from gripping the handlebar.
posted by akgerber at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

People who are a part of film shooting crews often wear two belts -- one to actually hold their pants up, and the other as a place to hang useful objects like a walkie-talkie, a roll of gaff tape, electricians' gloves, zippered pouches for small items like clamps (if a grip) or bobby pins (if a hair/makeup artist).

Furthermore, on set you can usually tell who does what based on what is strapped to that second belt. Five walkie-talkies? That's the set PA in charge of walkies. Gloves? Electrician. Clear zippered pouch full of safety pins and velcro? Costumer. Lots of wires and gadget looking stuff? Probably sound department. Etc.
posted by Sara C. at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

very shiny, luminous hair (from the chlorine).

Ha, when I was a competitive swimmer that was green hair from the chlorine. Swimmers with blond or light brown hair will start to go a bit green, though I think there's a special shampoo you can use to get rid of it.
posted by Sara C. at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2013

If someone has cauliflower ears they are probably a wrestler, grappler, or mixed martial artist.
posted by averageamateur at 2:43 PM on September 19, 2013

Rock climbers: generally sinewy build, but with overdeveloped lats and *monster* forearms.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:05 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you see a big guy (or increasingly, girl) with cauliflower ears and a broken nose, then rugby is a good guess.
posted by Ned G at 3:08 PM on September 19, 2013

I once made somebody's day by asking if he was a triathlete. My thought process was, "hmm, lean dude with shaved legs and defined quads, but very pronounced hamstring development, too, so not just a cyclist."
posted by richyoung at 3:48 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work in F&B. Would you like to see my burns? Because I can take pictures.
posted by theichibun at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2013

Also previously.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:33 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Potters often have really bad hair -- all that particulate matter in the air makes it dry and tangly.
posted by pantarei70 at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2013

Drafters used to get one shoulder higher than the other from leaning over the boards drawing, usually associated with a hunched over back. Now I guess it would be carpal tunnel from mousing.

If you see someone with lots of little black specks in their hands, they may be metal splinters from machining. It's a hobby with me, but I never seem to get rid of them. Gloves are forbidden around rotating machinery.
posted by rudd135 at 4:51 PM on September 19, 2013

Cyclist again:

Lower back tan line from where the shirt rolls up a little (Think if you got a "tramp stamp" tan)
Skinny, muscular, toned legs but flabby upper body.
Shoes that are worn down in such a way from the pedals
posted by wcfields at 7:01 PM on September 19, 2013

My boyfriend is a cook and has hardcore callouses on his knife hand, right at the base of his fingers.
posted by moons in june at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2013

Lesbians tend to keep their fingernails short and smooth.
posted by pracowity at 1:11 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Cauliflower ears
posted by like_neon at 2:03 AM on September 20, 2013

Knitters might have callouses on the tips of both index fingers or their thumbs, depending on how they hold the needles, from pushing the tips through the loops.

This may not be accurate at all, but when I see someone with a crazy ripped upper body and a disproportionately scrawny lower body, I think, "prison workout."

Rings leave tan lines and indentations on the skin; if you see these on a ring finger, you can usually figure out the situation by other context clues.

And of course, military haircuts. My military friends can sniff out the service and the rank just by looking, but I have no idea how they do it.
posted by mibo at 6:02 AM on September 20, 2013

I knit, and my callous is on my pinkie, from where I hold the yarn.

I also have a callous on my index finger from holding my pencil differently than mostly people. Rather than between the thumb and index finger, I hold it just below the first knuckle on my index finger.
posted by Katemonkey at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2013

Another notable element of rock-climbers: Very short battered fingernails, callous fingertips rather than just finger pads.
posted by French Fry at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2013

Whitewater kayakers (or other kayakers, I suppose) have paddle callouses on the insides of each thumb near the thumb's base. In colder climates, they also tend to have neck tanlines with very sharp borders, sometimes with chafing from the latex gasket of a drytop or drysuit.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2013

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