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Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

A serious case of the sniffles


On occasion I meet someone with a suggestion for this column, proposals that I typically decline.

Which is why you have never read entries here concerning use of these pages as birdcage liner, toilet paper or confetti.

But now I have received a different idea, one I think I'll try — blowing your nose.

No, not with my printed words. For the actual suggestion is not "blowing your nose," but rather "not blowing your nose".

Um. Maybe I should let the suggestion-maker himself explain:

"Did you ever notice," he says, "how many people on the train stand there — or if they're lucky enough, sit there — and sniffle. And sniffle. And then sniffle. Without doing anything for their nose?"

What I notice is that this guy has a facial tic. Every time he says, "sniffle," his cheeks twitch.

So I lean in close . . . and sniffle.

To see his face suffer electric shock.

Ah, been there, done that. Only instead of a twitch, I have cracked molars. From grinding them in aggravation at the sounds of train snifflers at my shoulder.

So, yes, I have noticed the snifflers. And I wonder about them too. The way people wonder about fingernails on blackboards. Please. Make it stop.

For there is nothing worse than having a quiet commuter ride ruined by the wretched sounds of someone with a runaway nose and runaway manners to match.

Like many commuters, I look upon the tedium of the train as down time. The crowds don't help, but the quiet does. I might read, I might daydream, I might sleep.

And I might go nuts if there's someone nearby with a runny nose. Hygiene and serenity be damned. The idea of someone dripping away with no regard for his surroundings can turn my brain waves into tsunamis.

It is not like this nation lacks tissue paper. Japan is perhaps the most tissue-blessed land on earth. In most city centers, a body can't stroll 50 feet without being handed a packet of tissues. Oh, if only Japan had oil reserves akin to its tissue deposits!

In my case, every bag I own is jammed with tissues. As are all my coat pockets. I have so many packets I've considered auctioning them on eBay.

"Genuine Japanese Tissues!" It's worth a try. Someone might bite.

Although not anyone from Japan. Because every citizen here already owns a warehouse full. So why don't they carry some on the trains?

"Oh but they do," says my friend with the electric cheeks.

He then tells me this horror story of an hour-long commute alongside a businessman with a nose like a leaky faucet. He kept praying the man would change trains, but after 30 minutes he lost hope and politely offered some tissues. Only to have the fellow decline.

And then reach into his bag for his very own packet.

"Maybe he was lost in a dream," I say.

"Yeah . . . his dream, my nightmare."

And the nightmare reoccurs. With the sniffler almost always a Japanese male. Hardly ever is the culprit female.

Why no girls? I toss my friend two ideas . . .

"Maybe it's the mating game. Females are instinctively attracted to stronger males. With a big noisemaker being one sign of a healthy provider."

"Or . . . perhaps Japanese boys just have bigger noses. Their nasal cavities are more like waterpark slides. They're too wide to hold in mucous."

But my friend feels differently. He says rampant sniffling is a sign of an indulged male child.

The child who is coddled in the home and given great leeway with his etiquette. The child who never has to do the dishes, wash clothes or clean his room.

Momma does all that for him. Just like she does for dad.

And so the lad grows up with the assumption that outsiders will cut him the very same slack. Or that such slack is male privilege. It comes with the anatomy. And this leaves him oblivious to his surroundings.

Meanwhile, young girls are brought up in opposite fashion. Slack? Some women have social radar so acute they can detect a split-end at 300 paces. And do you know what a sniffle can do to make-up?

Yet, I am not sure I agree with this gender tender analysis.

"Most Japanese don't mind sniffling," I tell him. "It's a cultural thing. They tune it out, the same way cigarette smokers tune out smoke."

Which somehow leads to his next suggestion — no-sniffling cars on the train.

An unworkable idea that still provokes a happy grin. Until his imagination flips and he envisions cars with snifflers only.

And this scene brings tremors to his cheeks and then tears to his eyes.

"Do you have a tissue?" he asks.

Do I!

Well, no, this time I don't. But I do have some pages from this column.

I produce one saying, "How unusual. Most people read it and then weep."

But I hand it over quickly.

Before he can sniffle.



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