Nose-picking in public

I just saw a woman waiting in line at Tim Horton’s pick her nose.

(For those who don’t know: Tim Horton’s is a once-proudly Canadian coffee chain internationally known by travellers to Canada, our pride and joy in some ways, until it was bought by the Americans. They promptly changed the famous coffee, adopted the Starbucks business model of aggressively shutting down competition, and asininely dropped the apostrophe from the name. But I never will.)

I had just gotten my coffee in my reusable mug (environment and all that) and was walking towards the door (back to the inevitability that is cubicle life) when I spotted her. She had her head down and her eyes cast towards the floor. And she was definitely “in there.” Perhaps she spotted me with her peripheral vision because when I passed by her she stopped the pick and crossed her arms very quickly, like, “I wasn’t picking my nose. I was crossing my arms the whole time. My hand just accidentally went up to my nose while on its way to my chest for the arm-crossing. It overshot the mark, that’s all.”

It’s funny how we do this, still, as adults. I don’t mean the picking—I mean assuming that no one can see you when you’re in public. As a kid you probably covered your eyes and said, “You can’t see me!” We still operate by this logic: If I can’t see you, then you can’t see me.

This is especially true in our cars. Back before a bicycle was my transportation and I used to drive a car, I would always sing along to music like a maniac not thinking that anyone could see me. Or not caring. I remember, the music would have to be loud enough that it drowned out the sound of me singing at the top of my lungs. I would drum on the steering wheel, chair dance, and even head bang. Once in a while at a red light I’d notice somebody noticing me and feel embarrassed, but it didn’t put a stop to the behaviour.

I have seen people do some pretty crazy things in their cars, as if it’s their private space and those are in fact brick walls and not windows.

And I’ve seen a couple of downright nasty things. One time I was driving on the highway with a friend and we saw a guy…how do I put this delicately…? Well, let’s just say that his left hand was clutching the steering wheel and a handkerchief, and his right hand could not be seen—but the arm was moving vigorously. Yeah, that’s right.

That was years ago, and the disgust lasts until this day.

So what is it? Is it a psychological thing? Maybe it’s a self-esteem thing. People don’t think they’re worth noticing, so why would anybody be noticing them? Or do we forget we’re in public?

Maybe it’s rebellion. But that doesn’t make sense, because then why the subterfuge? “Screw you! I’m gonna pick my nose in this line at Tim Horton’s whether you like it or not! OMG, someone just saw me! Quick! Pretend I was just crossing my arms!”

Or it could be an extrapolation of “the three-second rule,” which states that if you drop a food item on the floor it’s okay to eat it if you’ve picked it up within three seconds. (This, by the way, is illogical!) Yes, maybe we think that if we sneak in a quick nose-pick, ass-scratch, or balls-adjustment that it won’t be noticed because it’ll only last a fraction of a second. “What’s the likelihood that someone will be looking at me at this precise moment?”

I have to say that I myself have fallen victim to this. For me, though, it’s more of a proximity rule: “I’m just going down the street for a coffee so I don’t have to fix my hair…or change out of my pyjamas.” As if only being outside for ten minutes as opposed to an hour, or only going two blocks as opposed to eight, will somehow diminish my chances of being seen.

Clearly I don’t know why we do things in public that we wouldn’t do if we knew people were watching us, even though we know we can be seen—because we’re in public! Just, you know, try to keep the gross stuff to a minimum.

P.S. I am really interested in your opinions as to why we do this, so leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 11:33 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You know, I kind of like that people do weird gross things in public. It is one of those things that makes us charmingly human, I think. I mean obviously within reason, some things are too far (“Its okay to masturbate, just not right here in this room”) but I’m okay with things like picking your nose or whatever.

  2. Oh I should add, its charmingly human if you know you shouldn’t do it but you do anyway. People who have no qualms about doing gross things openly in public are a different story.


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