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The Germaphobe and the Achoo Factor

03/13/2015 12:09 am ET | Updated May 12, 2015

Hanky panky nothing. If I talk to one more person with a cold and cough, I may start giving out cough drops as hostess gifts. It's this time of year that I become a germaphobe. Any way you slice it, sneezing in public is messy and noisy, yet it cannot be helped. In fact, it's right up there with death and taxes. Yet, there is a way to deal with cold season in a safe and more pleasant way: use handkerchiefs.

The handkerchief, or hanky, a square of hemmed fabric that we use for the purpose of blowing or wiping our noses, has its origin in Ancient Greece and Rome. The word kerchief derives from the French word couvrir, which means "to cover," and chef, which means "head." Because kerchiefs were worn on the head in the Middle Ages, when they began to be used for hygiene again, the word hand was added to the term.

As cold season continues, so does the proliferation of tissues and hankies. Tissues are considered to be more hygienic, because they can be thrown away. But hankies are more elegant and more pleasant to use, plus they are usually kinder to your skin. A handkerchief held over your mouth also works much better as a germ barrier if you have to cough, or if you are surrounded by others who are coughing. It's a good idea to have one for each day of the week so you can replace it each day during cold season. And, just as it's nice to have a stationery wardrobe, it's nice to have an assortment of hankies. Men can choose plain cotton or linen ones, while women may prefer flowered, patterned, or lacy ones. For the height of elegance, have your handkerchiefs monogrammed.

The Dos and Don'ts of Hankies

• Whenever possible, excuse yourself from the presence of others if you have to wipe or blow your nose.

• If you happen to have a clean extra hanky, offer it to someone who's having a coughing or sneezing attack.

• If your hanky has been lent, don't expect it back. Think of it as like a business card: a gift that you give.

• Buy your hankies in bulk so you never run out.

• After your hanky has been laundered, iron it to get out the wrinkles. If not, it may look just like a crumpled tissue.

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.

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