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My impeccably mannered girlfriend from the Far East has one flaw, and it's a doozy. A matter-of-fact throat-clearing operation that punishes like a stealth fighter hitting a cheap window. My nerves being that cheap window. It starts off under the radar and ends like a good sucker punch. A guttural crescendo accompanied by a stream of bilge reminiscent of Linda Blair. She deposits her phlegm, more or less, in the direction of any available trashcan. I betray not hint of disgust. I'm stone, lest she gauge the depth of my horror. Though I did once ask her if she had ever served as a non-com in the Marines. By the way, this woman is elegant, educated, demure, serene, and lovely. I want to introduce her to my mother. What if this habit is just the tip of the iceberg? Grasping for straws here�.

-- H.B. Uridichi, downtown

Yikes! The lives you people lead�sometimes we're in awe back here at the Chuck E. Cheese Center for Deep Cover Investigations and Big Thinking. If the loogie queen was raised in China, Taiwan, or almost any other Far East location except Japan, she came to you with her spit rules already well established. Until recently, elaborate nose- and throat-clearing followed by free-range spitting has been no big deal in many Asian countries. It's a quick, practical way to deal with the gunk rather than carrying it around wrapped in tissue like we do. (Don't even try to tell me that there haven't been times when all you really wanted to do was spit a big hocker that you dredged up from somewhere, just to be rid of it�unless you're the type who likes to poke around and examine it, looking for something scary, or at least interesting.) Why, even the French thought it was okay for men to pee in the street until a few decades ago. It's said that the air pollution in many Asian cities is what makes folks there so phlegmish.

Anyway, the SARS epidemic has at least changed the official attitude toward spitting. No-spitting laws are now in effect, especially in China. Maybe this is your ice-breaker with the magnificent mucus maiden. "Oh, by the way, my peach blossom, I read in the paper today that as a public-health measure, it's now illegal to spit in China! In U.S. cities, spitting has been illegal-- not to mention bad, very bad etiquette, for at least a century. How interesting that such an ancient and venerable country should only now realize what an unsanitary, low-class, revolting habit it is. So, my elegant swan, my ruby pomegranate in autumn, if you launch one more loogie, I will drop you like a piece of flaming jade. Please accept this gift of Kleenex as a token of my esteem."

Well, that's just my suggestion. Once she's advised of this cultural difference between East and West, she will likely comply.

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