DARE TO ASK: Let's try not to pick on picky people
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Question, Part 1
I notice sometimes when I'm driving or going for a walk that white people dig
in their noses. Why do they do this?
Simone, 20, black female, White Plains, N.Y.
Question, Part 2
I've noticed a few co-workers, particularly of Asian descent, feeling quite
comfortable picking their noses in plain sight. Is this common?
J.H., 40, black male, Hayward, Calif.
My grown sister does this all the time. It's just a bad habit. I did have a
white junior high teacher who was known for picking her nose; pretty nasty. I've
also seen people dig up their ears and other things, but you and I both know
it's not a cultural thing.
Lisa, black, Gaithersburg, Md.
What do you do with your boogers? Put them in a crystal case and mail them to
the Queen of England?
Justin, white, Chicago
I think it's just lax standards in the workplace. My very Caucasian boss not
only picks his nose, he scratches his crotch and butt, and generally behaves in
a manner I would normally associate with a high school dropout or truck driver.
Ann, 38, white, Kansas City, Mo.
Maybe [Asian picking is] just something there's less taboo about. On the
other hand, eating with your fingers revolts many Chinese.
Adrian, 36, white, Hong Kong
We found experts on white culture and Asian culture. We found experts on
nose-picking. But we couldn't find any on white or Asian nose-picking.
Garden variety nose-picking hasn't been studied much. But rhinotillexomania,
or compulsive nose-picking, that's another story. (We won't get into mucophagy.
James Jefferson and Trent Thompson of the University of Wisconsin Medical
School surveyed people about their nose-picking and published the results in The
Journal of Clinical Psychiatryin 1995.
Let's drill down into the numbers, shall we?
Of 254 respondents, 91 percent were classified (using technical jargon) as
"current nose-pickers." Thus apparently all races and ethnicities are welcome to
8.7 percent said they never picked their nose. That is, they were "Big
About one in four pick daily. Half spend one to five minutes per day doing
it; 83 percent go mining to "unclog the nasal passages." And 2 percent do it
just for fun.
The researchers' conclusion?
"This first population survey of nose-picking suggests it is an almost
universal practice in adults, but one that should not be considered pathologic
As for Asians in particular, C.N. Le, Asian studies professor at the
University of Massachusetts-Amherst, theorizes that some people still perceive
Asians as "perpetual foreigners" who will never be "real Americans," thus making
it easier to tag them with nasty stereotypes.
"I'm not aware of any social norm in any Asian culture that says it's
perfectly fine to pick your nose in public," he said.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.