“Is there something on my face?” Re-thinking social etiquette

Rachael Pells

Rachael Pells

It had been a long day. I arrived home to discover that I had mascara smudged all the way down my face in a way which, partnered with my black shirt, might suggest that I was making an attempt at a new trend: Sad Goth meets Office-wear 2014.

The first thing to cross my mind was: “Why did nobody tell me?” Having sent disgruntled messages along those lines to my co-workers and so-called friends, I received the following responses:

“I only noticed after lunchtime…”,

“It didn’t look that bad”,

and worst of all: “I thought you might be annoyed if I’d said something!”

It’s a very British quirk, this fear of offending people. Sometimes honesty can hurt, but surely this delicate politeness has gone too far when not even friends feel can point out to each other that somebody’s face is letting them down.

Most people would want to know if they had food around their mouth or a piece of loo-roll stuck to their foot, and yet most of us would not feel brave enough- or maybe bothered enough, to point such things out.

But surely it’s not just polite to subtly point out a bit of spinach on your friend’s teeth or a forgotten label on the back of a new dress, it is our social and moral duty. For at least four hours of my day, I had been making serious conversation with people under the impression that I looked somewhat professional, while in fact I looked rather terrifying. At best, my peers may have pitied me, imagining that I had just had a bit of a cry in the toilets, while others might have been distracted with the idea that I was perhaps on the verge of a mental breakdown.

There are of course varying degrees of appropriate hint-making. Few people would readily tell their boss that they had bad breath, or question whether their barman’s birthmark was in fact leftovers from lunch. But I like to think that any girl in danger of walking out of the bathroom, dress tucked into her knickers, would be stopped by someone before too long. And yet, not only have I at some point been that girl, but I can think of at least one occasion when I have let a woman’s big pink bloomers walk straight by.

So it’s not with bitchy smugness that I point out the lipstick on your teeth or the fact that your hair is sticking up at an unnatural angle.  It is  (mostly) because I care. Of course, there are times when one may choose to hold one’s tongue…

During one insufferable Friday night tube journey home, I observed some lairy men in overalls laughing loudly at a man who had burst out of his jacket seams. That’s embarrassing, but it’s not something that can be fixed with a tissue. The poor man looked down at his sandwich box and turned red. As the main taunter and I made brief eye contact, I made the decision not to tell him that his flies were undone. He deserved it that time.

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One Response

  1. JohnT March 6, 2014

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