Did I Say That?: Nose hair trimmings and the demise of polite society

Joe Pisani ponders nose hair and rudeness in his latest column.

Joe Pisani ponders nose hair and rudeness in his latest column.

Joe Pisani /

Against my better judgment, or what’s left of it, I decided to write about a particularly nasty topic, but it has nothing to do with the election. Anyway, I hope you’ve fully digested your Thanksgiving dinner.

This is a topic that even the entertainment industry with all its raunchy films wouldn’t touch, a topic the mainstream media would surely censor. And yet it’s a topic dear to us all — unsightly nose hair. Not just nose hair but also ear hair.

My wife, who cuts what’s left of the hair on my head, refuses to venture any further than that, so I have to perform this challenging personal grooming task myself.

During the 18th century, it was widely understood that trimming nasal and ear hair was “an indispensable matter of the toilet office.”

“Don’t neglect the small hairs that project from the nostrils and grow about the apertures of the ears. These are small matters of the toilet that often are overlooked,” wrote Connecticut historian and artist Eric Sloane in “DON’T: a Little Book of Early American Gentility.”

When I started reading his collection of colonial advice, I realized how far our progressive culture has slipped into dysfunction if not dystopia. But I’m not going to regale you with stories about the good ole days because I’m not old enough to remember the good ole days, and even though I’d like to spend the day talking about nasal hair, that’s as much as I’m going to say about unsightly body hair ... no matter where it resides.

The advice Sloane compiled was accepted social etiquette during my childhood, back when people tried to make the world a better place by improving themselves rather than telling other people how they should live.

I still remember my mother’s admonitions: Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t reach in front of someone at the dinner table. Don’t look over anyone’s shoulder. Don’t interrupt someone who’s speaking. (That would have been a useful tip at the presidential debate, for participants and moderators alike.)

Stand up when a woman enters the room. (Are we still allowed to do that without facing prosecution by the woke vigilantes?) Avoid talk about religion, politics and sex. (Absolutely no one does that.) Don’t swear in public. (Who doesn’t?) Hold the door for people. (Let it slam in their faces, I say!)

Sloane offered this advice to women: “Don’t forget to thank the man who surrenders his seat.” And this to young people: “Don’t fail in proper attention to elderly people. Young persons are often scandalously neglectful of the aged.” It’s pretty clear the times have changed...for the worse.

One pearl of wisdom that could benefit Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi, not to mention Rudy Giuliani, was “Don’t use hair dye. The color is not like nature and it deceives no one.” President Reagan knew that. He didn’t dye his hair, he used Brylcreem, which I’d encourage Pelosi to try.

I’m not going to bore you with the proposition that the old ways are the best ways, because we live in a progressive age. Nevertheless, I’ll pose this question: With all our alleged advances in technology, education, politics and jurisprudence, how did our society degenerate so much?

Sloane, who published his book in 1973, said: “In this era of escape philosophy, traditional custom seems far away and appropriate only to an obsolete age....As for myself, I believe that strict good manners and good breeding still have a place in the world.”

Of course, 2020 makes 1973 look like a golden age of gentility, at least if you overlook disco, wide lapels, shag carpets and bell-bottoms.

Today we’re overburdened with an overabundance of hate, anger and resentment, and the motto of our age has become “If you don’t think the way I think and if you don’t share my ideology, I’ll get violent ... but only after I ruin your reputation and threaten your family.”

It’s time for all of us to settle down, stop taking one another’s inventory and do something productive like ... trim our nose hairs. All together now.

Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.