Would Jackie O do this?

Would Jackie O do this?

A prickly heat-kind-of-evening and you escape to the movie theater. Problem is the air conditioning is on the fritz. Everyone is perspiring and shifting in the scratchy upholstered seats; popcorn’s melted butter gives off a rancid smell, and the girl next to me with the Chelsea Clinton ringlets is flicking her hair from one side of her head to the other like a horsetail swatting flies. The only fly, however, in this overheated episode is me because her hair is hitting my bare shoulders like a whip. For two miserable hours I twist in my seat muttering and trying desperately to get away from her abusive tangle of hair. And that’s not all–I just know strands ended up in my Diet Coke.

Didn’t anyone teach that young filly that playing with your hair in public is just plain bad manners? Brought up like a trained seal by a mother who stressed manners above all else, I’m constantly aware of those who breach public manners: women checking their teeth in the blade of a knife for salad remnants; or applying a full coat of base and blush while chatting on cell phones in restaurants.

I’m afraid urban life has become a minefield of grotesque beauty boo-boos.

Beyond the crisp white damask napkins and crystal goblets schmeared with layers of lip goo, too many times I’ve seen women spritz hair spray and extra perfume while seated at restaurant tables. It’s become such a public annoyance that New York’s Cipriani restaurant posts a warning about heavy duty scents being offensive to other diners.

And though no one appreciates a manicure more than me, I don’t want to see one in progress, in public. Aside from watching someone pick, pick, pick at their chipped polish, what galls my friend Sarah is the snapping sound of a nail clipper and the subsequent flight of the nail. Not only have we all witnessed erratic flying particles, we’ve also been in the line of fire of the fine dust of nail filing and nail polish’s toxic smell? And what’s the point of a pretty manicure if those polished talons are used to pick up food like some kind of alien Captain Hook.

Public spaces, private places, whatever the size of the room or the audience, it just goes without saying that some things–like picking your teeth with the toothpick that speared your shrimp or playing with your hair at the table or wearing sandals with icky unkempt toes–are just better done within the privacy of your own home.

So, unless it’s a simple application of lipstick or gloss that can be applied lickety-split without drawing attention to yourself, please don’t treat the rest of us to your beauty treatments. Hie thee to the ladies room where you may buff and puff to your heart’s content. There’s something to be said for keeping your beauty rituals a bit private, especially when I’m around.

Betsy Perry is writing a book about civility and manners for the new millennium and beyond.