Epidemic Etiquette

I'm SickThere is quite a buzz about the H1N1 or swine flu. And, for good reason given how dangerous it’s proving to be with younger people. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself and others from getting sick.

A handshake will always be a gesture of goodwill. We shake hands when we meet or greet people, close a deal or say goodbye. But in this germy time shaking hands seems like a death wish. You have a few choices. You can shake someone’s hand and then as soon as possible wash your hands with soap and water, or you can do the epidemic salute. When approaching someone you would normally shake hands with, raise your right hand and give an enthusiastic “Hello Jane”. Then, put your hand down. This is perfectly acceptable.

woman coughing into armFor coughs and sneezes, the proper etiquette is to sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm. You don’t want the germs on your hand waiting for an unsuspecting handshake victim or being left in public places. Think of all of the things you touch every day that others touch as well; elevator buttons, doors, pens, phones, hand rails, computer keyboards, etc. I have even seen people cough or sneeze into their hand at the grocery store then touch a piece of produce. So be sure you wash your produce well before eating it.

If someone is openly coughing or sneezing, it’s perfectly fine to offer them a tissue and say; “would you like a tissue for your cough/cold?”  Which brings me to this; always carry tissues or a handkerchief with you. There’s nothing worse than sneezing or having a runny nose and not having a tissue. Use the tissue or handkerchief to sneeze into when a sneeze is coming on or to blot a runny nose. If you are at a meeting or meal and need to blow your nose, excuse yourself from the meeting to do so.

Of course, if you’re sick, stay home. While you may think you’re being heroic for trudging into work or meeting with clients when you’re ill, the reality is you are just putting others at risk. So, stay in bed and take care of yourself.

What are some additional ways you’re protecting yourself and others from catching the flu?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Daniel Garigan on November 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

    You are VERY good Clise… I am booked to fly from Vilnius to Copenhagen and Copenhagen to Chicago on Wednesday.. thinking I should buy my P95 Mask (how do you translate that to Lithuianian?) But as a traveller who will spend 12 hours “locked” in a seat with recirulating airconditioning… expect the likely regarding airborne particulate results. You etiquette is lovely and effective. (Still I will be translating p95 in Lithuanian). Thanks and all the best,


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