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.]

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.

New Rule No. 3: Bolting out of your seat every time a lady goes to the turlet = bad manners.

Many decades ago, I had a friend who danced for the Royal Ballet. She would often share dishy stories concerning Princess Margaret, the boozy glamorous sister of the current monarch and one-time patroness of this august institution. After a gala performance, Maggie would throw a lengthy late-night banquet during the course of which she would make several trips to the loo. Every time she left from the table, my pal and her co-hoofers were obliged to stand. When Mag eventually staggered back from the royal powder room, the exhausted performers were permitted to resume their seats once more. Insane right? And although very few people get the royal treatment, a version of this clunky 18th-century “politesse” is still in play. At the posher eateries in Manhattan, like 21 and La Grenouille, old codgers are, with much crackling of gristly knee joints, still rising from their seats to acknowledge the john-bound exits of their lady friends.

Call me crazy, but I prefer to slither unobtrusively to the men’s room. How it constitutes good manners to underline the call of nature by hopping up and down like a jack-in-a-box I fail to understand. Why not just hold up a sign that reads, “Check this out! She is headed for the loo, AGAIN!!”

New Rule No. 4: Not sitting down = bad manners.

Another arcane tradition of yore: standing up at cocktail parties. I have a real bug up my butt about this one. Whenever Jonny and I throw a drinks soirée chez nous, guests make me nuts by refusing to enjoy our copious seating arrangements. I lounge about with ostentatious insouciance shrieking, “Take a pew! Roll down your knee-highs. Relax!”—but to no avail. Guests stand about in groups looking as if they are waiting to be shot by firing squad. Could my focus on this particular convention be related to the fact that I am freakishly undersized and have become sick of standing about while people tower over me and balance hors d’oeuvres trays on my head? Certainly not.

New Rule No. 5: Waiting for Elijah = bad manners.

This one seems like a no-brainer. When dining companions fail to show up on time, you have two choices: You can sit there trying to pretend you are not imploding from rage and hunger, or you can just go ahead and order.

Convention dictates that you bottle up your resentment and await their arrival. Common sense dictates that the evening would be more pleasant for all concerned if you simply charged ahead and ordered your food. When the tardy guests arrive, they will be delighted that you had the presence of mind to continue without them, thereby diffusing tension, thereby absolving them of the crushing guilt they will doubtless be experiencing as a consequence of having thrown a wrench into the evening. And if they are not delighted, if they have no guilt, if they are pissed that you did not sit there for 45 minutes staring at the menu, then it’s only good manners to tell them to go f*ck themselves.

New Rule No. 6: Braying into your cellphone = surprisingly good manners.

Finally, we come to the nadir of contemporary bad manners. Or is it? In our wacky counterintuitive world, yammering on your cellphone is considered the height of bad manners. I am not sure why. I have always enjoyed listening to other people’s conversations and have no desire to see this source of free entertainment extinguished. Is there anything more fun than other people’s freely offered pontifications and disclosures?

“People cannot handle the truth. Granny never had a fistula. That was Morty, the man upstairs.”

“Trust me. I am an international woman of business, so I understand the notion of clawbacks.”

Give me a phone-yammerer over a nose-picker any day ... just be considerate. Make sure you pump up the volume!