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Handkerchiefs, Sanitizers and Sneezes


Handkerchiefs are gross, actually. Take a piece of fabric, cough into it, put it in your pocket or purse...nasty! However, the concept is not without merit. Did we learn nothing from the virus that shall not be named? People cough, people sneeze, people yawn; those are facts. How we do it when we are around others is within our control and it should be done politely.


Coughing can be due to illness, a poorly timed sip of water, or a random burst of air. In and of itself, there is nothing impolite about a little cough. Turn your head, cover the cough, say "excuse me". If you cover with your napkin, request a new napkin. If you cover with your elbow, no worries. If you cover it with your open hand, sanitize immediately or excuse yourself to wash your hands. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is not a sentiment from the Bible, but it is a sentiment held by civil society. Turn your head, cover your cough, excuse yourself, clean your hands. The end.


Sneezing may be an allergic reaction or a symptom of illness. Again, a sneeze is not inherently rude. Sneezing across your dining companion's food, however, is. Turn your head, cover your sneeze, say "excuse me", and clean your hands...It's a theme! If either your cough or sneeze becomes continuous, though...you may not be well enough to be in public. If allergy medication or cold remedies do not suppress the symptoms, just bow out of the social engagement. Coughing and sneezing in public can be incredibly disruptive and can ruin the experience of others. Not to mention, you may be spreading illness to friends and family.


Yawning is not at all understood from a medical/scientific perspective. Most clinicians believe yawning is a reflexive response to a need for a deep breath either from stress, elevation changes, or shallow breathing. Regardless, it is always rude. If you feel a yawn coming on, try to excuse yourself. You never want your companions to think you are bored or tired. If you cannot, turn your head and quietly take your breath while covering your mouth. Hankies, napkins and elbows are best for coverage, but if you must use your hands, by all means sanitize after and say, "excuse me".


Sighs are always rude. Do not sigh if you can help it. If you cannot, excuse yourself and apologize. Sighing "says" that you are either perturbed or holding your tongue or being inconvenienced in some way. If the gathering to which you are invited is inconvenient, just do not go. It is far better to apologize for being absent than to disrupt or diminish the event for others. No sighs.


Most of President Washington's "rules" are really about making the people around you comfortable being around you. Being a gracious, mindful guest is always appreciated. Being a gracious, mindful host makes people want to return to your home/business/function. This may be the societal "norm" most absent from public discourse these days....simply caring about the experience of others. Today's standard is more "here I am, deal with it." Let's return to a time when standards were more, "let's sit a spell and enjoy each other's company."


Here are PW's post pandemic rules for dealing with coughs, sneezes, and yawns in public.




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