Etiquette question: Should I have picked the dead bug out of this woman's hair?

The other night at work, this nicely-dressed older lady came through my checkout lane, and smack in the middle of her carefully coiffed short middle-aged-lady tight perm hairdo, there was a half-inch insect of some kind, immobile. Looked like some kind of delta-winged fly, or one of those obscure wasp/fly thingies that only entomologists get excited about. Not yer garden variety bug, IOW.

Without thinking, I reached forward and picked it up, saying, “You’ve got a bug in your hair,” and it obviously being dead, I dropped it into my trash can and went on ringing up her purchases.

She looked understandably startled, and remarked (oddly, I thought), “My own children wouldn’t take a bug out of my hair.” To which I replied, “Um.”

Anyway, she left, and I wondered whether I should have let her proceed with her bug. What would Miss Manners say?

I’d want someone to tell me I had a bug in my hair.

Didja think that maybe she wanted it there?

Tsk. How rude.

I’m all for debugging strangers, but I can see where she might get a little oooged out. Perhaps you should have said, “Excuse me, but it appears you have a bug in your hair. Do you mind if I get it?”. Yeah, I know…it’s wordy and if there’s a bug in my hair, you’d better be snatching that thing outta there.

The response “My own children wouldn’t take a bug out of my hair.” sounds as if she appreciated it, but didn’t know how to thank you gracefully. It sounds like a random stranger would help her out more so then her own kids.

I wouldn’t have minded. On the other hand, if I had been in your position, I probably would have said something like, “Um, you have a bug in your hand, do you want me to . . .?” and waited until she nodded or made some other sign of acquiescing.

Your story reminds me of something that happened during my MA graduation ceremony. While seated and listening to the dean giving her speech, I noticed a small catterpillar on the shoulder of the guy in front of me. I hesitated for a few seconds, wondering if I should just wait until he discovered it himself, but then I remembered a certain Garfield cartoon where Garfield watches a spider crawl up Jon’s leg. “Should I tell Jon there’s a spider crawling up his leg?” he wonders. While he is wondering, the spider eventually crawls on Jon’s face, causing Jon to let out an earsplitting screech. “Guess that problem took care of itself,” Garfield reflects. Thinking that an earsplitting screech might be somewhat disruptive to the solemn atmosphere that currently hung over the ceremony, I reached over and lightly brushed it off his gown. The creature obligingly fell off, straight onto the open purse of my friend sitting next to me. She gave me a wry look before trying to shake it off. The catterpillar tumbled into her purse and disappeared, somewhere beneath her wallet, her camera, and her sunglasses. The two of us exchanged looks and had to clap our hands over our mouths before we burst out into what would have been very undignified laughter for future MAs.

We did eventually find the damned creature and set it free.

Chalk me up as this being more indicative that her children are pricks than that you were being rude. Kind of weird not to say thank you, at least.

Funny enough, Miss Manners addressed this pretty recently. She said that in such cases you should say, “I’m sorry, but I think that something has fallen in your hair. Would you like me to get it out for you?” Seems straightforward enough, but to be honest, until I read the column I would have been at a loss of what the ‘right’ thing to do would be.

Link to WaPo article (registration required)

However, in retrospect, what are the odds that her response to my statement, “There’s a bug in your hair…” might have been a complete shrieking freakout right there at Register One? “OHMIGOD GETITOUT GETITOUT GETITOUT!” jumping up and down, etc. I think maybe my cashierly people management instincts told me that the best thing to do was just grab it and move on.

ETA: Or maybe it was just a Mom instinct: when you remove a bug from a kid, it’s wisest not to make too big a deal out of it. “Oh, look, you had a spider on your leg–but it’s gone now” is better, rather than, “You have a spider on your leg. May I remove it?”

Your instincts, as usual, are spot on. At least, for a woman of your mature sensibilites. :slight_smile:

If she had freaked out, then you still did the right thing. If you had done the polite routine, she would have freaked out and you wouldn’t have had a chance of doing what you did.

. . .

But you didn’t tell her, you reached in and took it out. If somebody I didn’t know reached up to touch my head my first reaction would either be to jump back or grab their wrist and push it back. What I’d expect would be for you to say “Excuse me, I think you have something in your hair” and let ME take it out or ask for assistance if I want it. Unless we know each other very well I expect you to keep your hands to yourself.

there may have been a bit of a wig- out if you told me about the bug. i have a beetle phobia.

my own mother wouldn’t have told me, she would just say: “hold on a bit…” and gotten it off and would then tell me it was lint. she would have to deal with a jumpy daughter otherwise.

Having a bug phobia myself, I’d be pretty grateful if someone just took it out for me. I hate bugs, and I hate knowing I have bugs on me, and I hate touching them…cutting out the middleman would be A-OK in my book, Duck Duck Goose!

Next time just swat it and make sure it’s dead before removing it.

I think you did good. If it would’ve been me, I would have been puzzled as to what you were doing, then extremely grateful after you got the bug off and explained. If someone told me I had a bug(dead or otherwise) on my head before doing something about it, I’d freak out, and beg them to get it for me, anyway.

And I also think the woman’s comment was more about her kids than about you.

If I was going through the checkout lane and the checker said, “You have a bug in your hair,” I would be leaping and screaming.

If, on the other hand, s/he reached out and plucked the bug out, no problem. Dead or alive. (Although I prefer my bugs dead.)

Speaking of wig-outs, somebody (a family member, not a stranger or a checker) tried to pull some kind of dried weed thing out of my mother’s hair, and pulled her wig off. Or anyway, pulled enough to almost unseat the thing. (Had it been a bug, she might have pulled the wig off herself, and stomped on it.)

Before you take any “potentially” intamate action with another person you ask in a private maner… You do not use a bullhorn to announce “your fly is open, or you just dropped your prescription for atavan”…
In the case of the bug lady’s hair … I would find/make an opportinity to lean in and say “You seem to have a dead bug lodged in your hair… would you like me to remove it subtly?”

I guess that basis of all social behavoir is to imagine ones’ self in the opposite position.
And behave graciously…


Touching someone without their permission, unless it’s to, say, administer CPR or the Heimlich, is rude.

I’ll remember that the next time a wasp is parked on your shoulder with its stinger about to lance you. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think you should have made chimp noises and picked it out and eaten it.