Has It Really Become Acceptable to Pick Your Nose in Public?

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
March 20 2014 8:13 AM

Throw Out the Rule Book!

Let’s reinvent etiquette for the 21st century.

Miley Cyrus
No blurred lines here, Miley: Nose-picking is not OK.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters.

He was scruffy. He was bearded. He was carrying a sustainable, earth-colored, cruelty-free man-bag, and … he was picking his nose.

I guess it was inevitable. If the goal of chic Brooklynites is to appear gritty and unprissy, then it was only to be expected that they might add this revolting activity to their repertoire of coded heritage signifiers. And add it they have. Every time I board the L train, I clock another organic pickle-maker taking a nosedive. A stroll through any organic brewery or boutique hotel will invariably result in a few sightings. Hey buddy! Give me a wave when you reach the bridge!

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

As marketing gurus have pointed out, the faux-hemians of Brooklyn are a very influential group. Sure enough, I’ve observed the nose-picking trend spreading rapidly to nonhipster circles. Last week I flew to the U.K. on trendy Virgin Atlantic. The upscale lady across the aisle spent the entire flight looking at spreadsheets while sticking her forefinger into her schnoz. On the return journey an adjacent young banker-ish dude did exactly the same thing. This double whammy afforded me an unexpected insight: I found that I was significantly more appalled by the female picker than the male. Does this make me a misogynist? [Ed. note: Yes.]

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One thing is for sure: I am a germ-phobic tissue addict. Even writing about nose-picking is making me feel queasy. But I am truly concerned that nose-picking is losing its taboo status. Type “celebrities caught picking their noses” into your Google search and you’ll see that even A-listers are doing it!

The topsy-turvy whirligig of contemporary life has clearly begun to erode modern manners, meddling with our judgment and screwing with our objectivity. We no longer have a clear sense of what constitutes appropriate behavior. But before we give snot-picking the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, may I propose a few alternatives? These new rules contravene tradition and will horrify the hidebound, but to my mind they just make good sense. Let’s update the etiquette books with these amendments instead.

New Rule No. 1: Shout-outs for shekels = good manners.

Nose-picking may be gaining wider acceptance, but posing blunt questions about money—How much do you earn? What did you pay for that asbestos-riddled ranch house?—remains totally verboten. This reticence has never made any sense, and now that everything is so bloody expensive, it needs to be jettisoned ASAP. It’s time to ditch the coyness about what things cost and open the record books.

The world of high fashion is the biggest culprit, as exemplified by those on-page photo credits that announce “price available upon request.” There is something intrinsically bad-mannered about dangling delectable schmattas in front of our eyeballs while simultaneously withholding the most critical info: the price. If that simple knee-grazing pique business skirt is $3,000, then for God’s sake have the decency to warn us. Henceforth, I decree that fashion models, while waddling down the runway, be obliged to carry placards bearing detailed pricing info.

New Rule No. 2: Asking if someone has had work done = good manners.

Why on earth is it considered bad manners to peek behind a friend’s ears looking for scars? If a chum has gone to all the time, agony, and expense of plastic surgery, the very least you can do is exclaim over the transformation, enquire about the nature of the procedure, and, as per No. 1, the cost.

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