The dilemma of public grooming

The number 8 lurches to a halt, destination Toorak via the city. The doors slide open and I step onto the tram.

Incredibly, a couple of seats are still vacant. I edge down the aisle, take a seat and glance about my fellow travellers.

An old guy has incredibly high pants. A hipster wears glasses without lens. People staring down at their phones, one or two reading.

It is the woman across from me that grabs my attention.

Holding a compact and tweezers in front of her face, she plucks her eyebrows fastidiously.

I can’t help but stare. It takes a few moments but she picks the facial precinct bare. Satisfied, she raises the tweezers to her lips, turns her head and blows the offending hair into the walkway.

I glance around. In some collective act of self-preservation I’m not privy to all other punters are oblivious.

I consider saying something but instead ponder personal grooming.

I wonder whether we have any right to intervene in the routines of others.

An outspoken high achiever walks into the room with the back of her dress tucked into her undies.

A rogue poppy seed gets lodged on the front tooth of work colleague.

A businessman with a piece of toilet paper stuck to his immaculately shined shoe .

Do I intervene? Spare them from potential embarrassment by letting them know? Would my intervention be more embarrassing? I could just avert my eyes, pretend not to notice, and let them go about their day.

Everyday dilemmas.

I formulate a position.

If you know the person’s name then you have an unequivocal responsibility to tell them. Not doing so equates to shitting in the bathroom sink at a friend’s house when the toilet is right next to you. Don’t know the person? Then it’s a judgment call but making eye contact or having talked to them at some point must tilt the scales.

Intervention has its dangers. I once pointed out the toilet paper stuck to the shoe of an elderly woman in Sydney and was chased down the street. Tact is also important. Viciously brushing the dandruff off the shoulder of a work colleague isn’t a good look but do nothing, say nothing, and the guilt of inaction until will haunt you until day you die.

The tram rounds the corner and my stop approaches.

I stand, but before leaving I bend down and tap the woman on the shoulder.

“You look fabulous,” I say then head for the door.

Reworked from 6 Oct 2011.