When a person has something on their face, aside from a smile, it can make things awkward. Do you say something? Ignore it? Before you let someone walk away looking foolish, read Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips.
Artists say that inspiration can come from anywhere. And today’s episode was inspired by a very recent experience I had of walking into a Starbucks with a blood-dotted tissue on my chin still hanging there from when I cut myself shaving that morning. I knew it was there while getting dressed, but forgot to remove it before leaving the house. And apparently the two college kids behind the register at the coffee house didn't seem to think it was a big deal…nor did the security guard at my work…nor did the four other coworkers I ran into on the way in. Finally, a true friend said, "Dude, you’ve got tissue on your face." Where was he two hours ago!?!
I understand it's tough to tell someone they have a foreign object stuck to their face, be it tissue or even a rogue booger, but let's be honest, much of the time you know the person didn't intend to walk around with something sticking to their nose. In fact, you can even hear their scream of shame (like my officemates did) once they are informed of the facial intruder.
Yes, it's wrong to rudely point and laugh at someone, but at the same time, when done properly, it can be a kindness that can truly save the person from further embarrassment. So before you laugh behind their back or mentally debate whether or not you should tell them about the wad of spinach in their teeth, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for how to tell someone they have something on their face:
Tip #1: Booger Gate
In the classic 1985 John Cusack film Better Off Dead, there’s a funny scene where John's character is sitting across from his girlfriend who happens to scratch her nose, causing him to believe she's giving him "the signal" that he has a something in his nose. He tries to check his discreetly, only to cause her to check herself, and back and forth they go, both trying to wipe the mystery booger – that isn’t there – from their noses. All because they won't just say it out loud. Turns out, neither had anything on their face to start with.
This is a scenario that has happened to us all. Either you've been in the position of having said booger, or had to sit across from someone who did have one and in both cases nothing was mentioned. I understand that it may appear improper to point out a booger in someone's nose, let alone anything else on their face, but we can all agree that letting them know is a lot better than allowing them walk into a client meeting with an unsightly thing hanging from their nose.
So how do you tell someone they have a booger in their nose? Here are 3 good ways:
The Universal Gesture. Kindly whisper the person's name to get their attention or tap their arm when no one else is looking. Then look around and gently brush your hand across your nose, along with giving them the nod they have something in theirs. It's the international sign for, "Dude, you’ve got a booger."
Whisper Discreetly. When no one is looking, get the person's attention and whisper, "Really quick, you have something in your nose."And just as fast, they will take care of it and it’ll be done.
Pass a Note. One time a colleague of mine had something in her nose during a meeting. To save her the embarrassment, I typed "Got something in your nose" on my phone and showed it to her under the table, as if I was sharing an important email. Worked like a charm, and was pretty clever, if I do say so myself.
In the end, people will be incredibly thankful to you for taking the time and courage to discreetly assist them (emphasis on discreetly).
Tip #2: Tissue After Shaving
As I said earlier, I walked into a Starbucks with an obvious piece of wayward tissue stuck to my chin. And I understand that the two college students behind the counter may have felt it was unmannerly to tell a stranger that he had a blood-stained tissue on his face. I get that, I do. However, did they really think I meant to keep that on my face when I left the house, let alone when I left the car to come in for my coffee? I mean, if the cut was so bad that I had to keep tissue on my face to stop it from bleeding out, I wouldn't have stopped for coffee in the first place. My priority would have been not going into a public place with blood on me. Yet, it went unmentioned and afterwards I felt ridiculous. Still, we have to band together as one mannerly community and promise to always say something. But how? What is the line?
Whenever you feel uncomfortable about telling someone there is something on their face, try a little humor. For example, I wish the Starbucks guy had said, "Ugh, I hate when I cut my face shaving," and pointed at my face. I would have blushed tremendously but then simply laughed it off. After all, we've all been there. Or try something like, "I think you forgot something…" with a smile and tap your face where the offending object is on the other person. Either way, keep it lighthearted.
Now I'll play devil's advocate for a second. What if the person meant to keep something on their face? Well, you roll the dice and gamble. Worst case scenario, you’ll have a mutual laugh together, and they’ll say, "Yeah, I know I cut myself, but hopefully it will clear up by the time I get to work." Better to ask now than feel sorry later.
Tip #3: The Ink Stain
True story: One time I was in a meeting and a very senior executive at my company was holding a pen with his right hand that he was using as a pointer for a presentation. After he was done, he sat down next to me and scratched an itch on the side of his face. He used the same hand that earlier held the pen, which leaked at some point during the presentation. I didn't notice this until I turned in his direction and my eyebrows nearly jumped off my face when I noticed he had a large blue ink swipe across the side of his neck.
This could have happened to anyone and I truly felt bad for him. Ink is not like tomato sauce or ketchup that you can just wipe off and be done. Ink stains, and badly! Broken pens happen, as does spilled coffee, dropped food and yes, even the tissue on the face, so it's nothing to be ashamed of. However, in this instance, he needed to take care of it so it wouldn't dry and stain even worse. So how do you properly handle this?
For this situation, I had to act fast. I leaned over to him and whispered that he has ink on his neck and should go to the restroom immediately. Then as he got up, I tapped his arm to stop him from spreading it. I didn't want the strip of blue ink to go all the way across his face! In this case, there is not doubt – you have to tell someone. Ink is serious and there is no question of the person wanting to have it on their face. I can guarantee you that they don’t.
Have you ever gone a whole day with something on your face? Do you wish someone had told you about it? How would you handle the situation differently if the tables were turned?
Post all the details in the comments section below or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.
As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy’s tips for a polite life.