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IS THE POPE CATHOLIC?

A thoughtful inquisition:

Is it polite to discretely inform a stranger if part of their attire is amiss – meaning, if their fly is down, or their tag is sticking out of their shirt?  Is it polite to tell someone if something is amiss with their personal appearance – such as food in their teeth, or a booger hanging out of their nose?  I know that I would want to know rather than walking around all day with something obviously wrong and being embarrassed about it later.

LISTEN:

Well, you see, yes and no.  First off, how strange are these strangers?  One might inquire about the intentions of someone who runs about in public checking out the state of everyone else’s pant closure.  A shirt tag is different, but you shouldn’t go out of your way or draw undue attention to it.  If it’s someone in line with you at a checkout, just quietly say “You’re tag has slipped out on your shirt,” which indicates your full faith and confidence that it must have just happened and is a rarity, as opposed to them being thoughtless or slovenly.  But if it’s something you spot across the restaurant – just leave them alone.

Presumably you’d be in at least a social setting when you see food wedge in someone’s choppers or snot dribbling from their nose.  In this instance you’ll have to rely on the knowing look and the leading question.  A knowing look, coupled with “I think you may want to check your teeth” is fine, or the same with “May I offer you a toothpick?” should also work.  A very knowing look is required when you say “May I offer you a tissue?” lest someone otherwise think you’re just fond of giving presents.

One important distinction to make is that you can only suggest these things if it is something about their appearance they can change quickly or easily.  Having a hair out of place, for example, or a piece of fluff on one’s shirt.  But if someone is just caked with dandruff or has no end of hair sticking out of their nose and ears all clogged with mucus and wax…there’s just no point.  If they’re in that state, I’d think “May I offer you a mint?” would apply, so just start there.

Same with clothes.  A horribly stained tie or an ill-fitting dress…they can’t change that in the middle of whatever they’re doing.  If they’re genuinely oblivious, there’s no point in upsetting them then.  And I don’t know – looking at some of the things people wear nowadays, it might just be irony.  In that case, you don’t want to give them the pleasure of your noticing.  That’s what they’re after, the little scamps.

And look, if you know the guy well enough to tell him, just tell him his fly is down.  If it’s a total stranger, just let him be.  But if it’s someone you’re meeting at a cocktail party, bar or blind date, use that knowing look again, and ask him if he remembered to shut the front door when he left his house.

Let him figure it out on his own.  If he gets it quickly, he’s a keeper.

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