Vietnam Week: The Nosiest Question
Walk along any street anywhere in Vietnam and you’re bound to see someone picking their nose.
When I first announced I was taking questions for Vietnam Week on my blog, I was inundated with emails about nose-picking. It was far and away the number one topic that people brought up.
“Why, oh, why, do people think it’s acceptable to pick their nose in public?????” Was the basic gist of most questions from horrified tourists and expats whose stomachs had been churned one too many times by the sight of a public excavation.
I have asked Darling Man this question in the past and he’d replied with a semi-evasive “I don’t do it” and “not everyone does it”.
But I thought I’d put it to him in a more formal manner and he replied with the simple and direct “it’s dirty in Vietnam, so people’s noses get dirty”. And this is very true. Even my nose gets dirty in Vietnam from all the exhaust fumes and dust.
So we know why noses need cleaning in Vietnam. The question still remains – why clean your nose in public?
I think part of the answer is that in Vietnam, there is so little personal privacy that there would not be much opportunity to pick your nose in private.
Many generations of a family typically share a house, often all sleeping in the same room. Everyone would share a small cramped bathroom, with only a small mirror. And the living room of most houses opens directly onto the street. And when I say open, I mean the room usually has three walls because the third “wall” is the door, which has to be wide enough to get your motorbikes into the house.
Another part of the answer is that most of Vietnam is still mired in poverty. There are so many many things that take priority before the “don’t pick your nose in public” rule, things like getting clean drinking water and earning enough to feed your family. Telling a child not to pick its nose in public is just not front-of-mind for many parents.
Think about this: if you developed a sudden itch on your arm, you’d scratch it without giving it much thought at all, even if you were at work or out with your friends. It’s just not that big a deal. If the itch was somewhere else, somewhere “private”, you would not automatically scratch it, you would use the conscious part of your brain to work out what to do about the itch.
In the same way, I don’t think the public nose pickers of Vietnam are even aware that they’re doing it. It’s just a subconscious reaction to having a dirty nose.
Darling Man is also correct when he says that not everyone does it. He says he thinks public nose picking is revolting and he doesn’t like to see it, and that’s what many of my Vietnamese friends and former colleagues told me in the past — it’s a dirty habit that makes them feel sick. Especially when a waiter or waitress does it in plain view.
After riding around on the back of a motorbike all morning, then spending so much time thinking about noses, mine is so terribly itchy. Thank goodness we are rich enough to have a bit of privacy! Excuse me while I step into the other room.
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10 years ago