You've Got a Thing Hanging. . .
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Erik is feeling a little under the weather this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005. He should be back, raring to go, next week with an all new column.
Quick, check the mirror. You've got something in your teeth.
How many people would tell you that? Not many. You could be eating lunch with a friend and you've got a huge chunk of your lunch stuck between your front teeth, and your friend just stares at you. You think you're wildly interesting, because she's making great eye contact and hangs on your every word. But in reality, you're going to spend the rest of the day with a huge piece of spinach stuck to your front tooth, making you look like Mike Tyson's prom date.
And your friend will never tell you.
Some people say that you can tell who your true friends are, because they'll tell you if you've got a booger hanging from your nose; they want to save you from complete embarrassment later on.
But most people I know say they never point out dangling boogers or tooth spinach because they don't want to embarrass the other person. That's understandable. You wouldn't want to have your carefully crafted persona shattered by being told you have a barbecued rib dangling from the corner of your mouth.
On the other hand, these so-called friends never think about the fact that you won't discover your faux pas until three hours later when you finally stand in front of a mirror.
Now how embarrassed are you? Not only did you sit through lunch with your friend, but you had a department meeting, and gave a presentation to your boss,with that booger stalactite hanging from your nostril.
Let's face it, we're not really trying to spare the other person's feelings. We're just embarrassed ourselves. We don't want to be the one to point at the other person, say "Err. . . you've got a. . ." and then wipe our hand under our nose.
We feel absolutely no compunction about laughing about it with friends later: "I mean, it was just HANGING there , flapping in and out with every breath!" But we just can't bring ourselves to say, "Dude, you've got a boogie. Wipe your nose."
We need to get over ourselves. Life is not always about you (it's about me, actually), so we shouldn't worry about the shame of saying "You've got a. . . uhh. . ." We're actually doing the other person a favor -- the same favor we would want them to do for us.
It's the Golden Nugget Rule: Point out others' boogers as you would have them point out boogers stuck unto you.
Ultimately, the kind of person you are comes down to that one simple question: are you a forthright straight shooter who tells people what they need to hear? Or are you a shy, timid wallflower who would rather be swarmed over by fire ants then tell your best friend of 25 years, "Your barn door is open." (Okay, that's two questions.)
I hope you're the former, and that you'll spare a friend total public humiliation and remind her to check her teeth before she leaves the restaurant.
But it's a whole different ball game when it comes to smells and odors. Even communication and relationship experts agree that telling someone they smell is the most awkward, uncomfortable thing we could ever do. It's less awkward to tell your wife you're having an affair with her best friend as the two of you walk out the door for a romantic weekend.
Our smells are one of the most basic things about us -- they're our very essence. The way our prehistoric ancestors used to identify each other back in the 1940s. Even in some cultures today, a person's odor is considered part of who they are -- as distinctive as their face and their personality. To experience a person's odor is to experience the person.
Because odors are so primal, people never want to point out that someone else is emitting an unpleasant one. In most cases, it's considered a grave insult. The only exception is when a group of Guys get together and someone shouts the inevitable, "Dude, that was gross! What died inside you?!" immediately after one of them breaks wind. Then, not only are odors pointed out, they're usually celebrated.
So, don't be a fair weather friend. Look out for your friend, co-worker, or new acquaintance and help them save face in what could be an awkward social situation. Stand up, point dramatically at the other person, and declare proudly at the top of your lungs: "I am your friend, and you've got a large booger hanging from your nose!"
They'll thank you for it. And wipe it on your pants when you're not looking.