Having recently embarked on an attempt to grow a beard for the first time in my 34 years – What? What are you looking at me like that for? – I have been quite surprised at people’s reaction to it. Flatteringly, some have remarked that they like it, others have made the rather obvious comment that it makes me look different, whilst just one so far has suggested that I “get rid of it, it makes you look ancient”. Thanks Jennie, your kind comments are noted.
A few make that sort of chin-rubbing action as if to point out that they have spotted your growth and they are wondering if maybe you haven’t. Most, however, just ignore it completely. This might be because they walk around in a permanent state of ignorance or because they just can’t be bothered to say anything and have much better things to do.
I think, though, that pointing out someone’s facial hair – especially that of a female – is one of those subjects that we simply don’t talk about in this country. At least not directly to the face of the subject of the subject, if you get my drift! We will be quite happy to discuss it at length with friends and colleagues, provided that the person in question is well out of earshot.
Is it because we are too polite, obsessed with gossip, or just full of good-old British tact and reserve? Either way, here are a few more things that fall into the same, semi-taboo category. And for the purposes of this discussion, semi-taboo means “discuss at great length with absolutely everybody you know apart from the person whose personal situation you are discussing”.
Pregnant – The most treacherous of diplomatic minefields. You see a girl or woman you haven’t seen for a while who seems to have put on a bit of timber and you have to quickly make the extremely difficult decision whether or not to ask that crucial question: “When is it due?” It is always better to err on the side of caution. Don’t even think of asking until you have asked everybody else you know whether they know or not. If they don’t, then keep schtum. Let someone else put their foot in it.
Egg on your face – There you are, having lunch with a colleague in the kitchen at work, when he or she gets a small trace of mayonnaise just to the right of their top lip. They have not the slightest clue that it is there and therefore crack on with their conversation regardless. You look like you’re listening, and nod your head in what appear to be the right places, but really you’re all just staring at the stray mayo. What on earth is the problem with just saying “you have some mayo at the side of your gob”. It’s not like it’s snot, is it?
Weight loss – Again, you see someone you haven’t clapped eyes on for a while who this time appears to have lost some weight. It never enters your head to simply compliment them on what must have been a successful diet, does it? No, instead, you assume they have contracted some kind of horrible wasting disease and therefore must only have weeks to live. You decide that they are probably embarrassed about it and wishing to keep it under wraps as best they can so you decide that discretion is the better part of valour. Discrete with the person losing the weight, that is. You immediately email everyone else you know to tell them that you know for a fact that Ethel has AIDS.
Body Odour – We’ve all been in this situation before now. You find yourself in a crowded room, or squashed on a train or in a bank queue and somebody reeks. It’s that unmistakable, nauseating stench of bad personal hygiene. It’s easy to spot the offending party because if there are ten of you in the vicinity, there will only be one who is not frowning, screwing up their nose or stifling a vomiting episode. So, it must be him, the other one, ie the one who isn’t doing all of those things. But nobody will say anything because what are you supposed to do, anyway? I once worked with someone who seriously suffered (made us suffer) with this and the HR Manager plonked some soap and a tin of deodorant on his desk. Not sure you could do that these days, and in any case, it didn’t work back then either.
Hangover – Who hasn’t turned up for work a little bit worse for wear from a good night out? You might be still clattered, feel very ill or at best just plain tired and hoping for a quiet, easy day. So you keep your head down and don’t mention it and hope that no-one will notice. But they do notice and, even though it is blindingly obvious that all you are guilty of is having a great night out on the sauce, the story that will do the rounds is that the wife has booted you out of the house, you’ve been sleeping rough, you have the same terminal disease as Ethel above and, to cap it all, you’re on a final warning from HR because you’ve been fiddling your overtime. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh?
See you with the gossip girls – Griff