A woman sitting near me in Auckland airport's Koru lounge caught my attention when she took out an emery board and started filing her fingernails. If this had been a full-on manicure I was prepared to be silently affronted but, as it turned out, the procedure lasted mere seconds. Figuring she was just executing some swift repairs, I decided this was probably acceptable and not a major crime against the unwritten laws pertaining to personal grooming in public.

So there was an invisible and highly subjective line this woman had managed not to cross. Fixing a hangnail was fine. Getting out the polish and painting her nails would not have been. And, in my opinion, filing more than, say, two or three nails adjacent to where I was sipping green tea and enjoying a savoury scone would have been dodgy too.

Speaking of dodgy public displays of personal grooming, I once happened to sit next to a very well-known sportsman on a flight to Sydney and before takeoff he leaned forward and (not very) surreptitiously applied deodorant to both armpits. For some mysterious reason he couldn't have performed this procedure a little later in the privacy of the aircraft's toilet. It must have been a personal hygiene emergency.

The internet is rife with tales of ill-advised examples of personal grooming. Evidently there are people who brush their hair in line at the grocery store, clip fingernails on the bus, curl eyelashes in restaurants, pluck eyebrows in canteens, clean toenails on the subway - and floss teeth, remove nail polish or shave on trains.


"When did grooming become a spectator sport?" asked a writer for The New York Times while an insightful commentator at etiquettehell.com wrote: "[M]uch of it really ends up becoming a matter of littering cast-off bits of your body all over the place." If any procedure that leaves bodily detritus behind must always be performed in private then maybe that nail filing in the Koru lounge was out of line after all.

So what's okay and what isn't when it comes to personal grooming in public spaces? I think discreetly applying lipstick or hand lotion just might be acceptable but anything else is kind of gross. And, while I'm on the subject, if you really must blow your nose on a paper serviette at a restaurant then it immediately becomes classed as a tissue and therefore you must place it in your pocket and not leave it on the table. Just saying.

What's the worst public grooming crime you've committed or witnessed? Where do you draw the line between acceptable and downright offensive?