Domestic Affairs

Picking a fight

By Linda Gibson (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-22 09:23
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Chinese hosts and colleagues, please excuse me if this message seems too blunt to be polite. It’s the Western way, you know, to come right to the point.

It’s a point that already has been made countless times without any effect. There’s no reason to think that bringing it up one more time will make any difference in Chinese willingness to indulge in public displays of a disturbing habit.

But maybe venting frustration and disgust in this way will keep me from screaming next time I see someone picking his nose in public.

Don’t try to tell me that only migrant workers or rural residents do this. We all know better. It isn’t even limited to the male sex. We’ve all seen everyone from grannies to teenaged girls, as well as males of all ages, digging away as if they were in the privacy of their own bathrooms instead of crowded shoulder-to-shoulder on a bus or subway.

On the subways this weekend, on lines 5, 10 and 2, it was impossible to avoid the sight, although I tried. A dozen times in one afternoon, during rides totaling less than 60 minutes, I swallowed my disgust, clamped my lips shut to keep from causing a scene and simply moved to a different part of a car.

But it made no difference. There always was someone else within close range, mindlessly excavating without the benefit of a tissue.

Even at work, it’s not unusual to see one of my Chinese colleagues gently drilling a fingertip into a nostril while staring at the computer screen. Granted, she tries to be dainty about it, but that’s impossible.

Asians might scoff at this as excessive Western prissiness. Maybe it is. But as long as Western economies and countries continue to dominate global affairs, they’ll set the standard for First-World behavior and status. As long as that’s true, no country of nose pickers, no matter how populous or ambitious, will be able to gain that coveted status.