The title may tease, but the current outbreak of Swine Flu is no laughing matter. Close to 300 schools across the country have closed, vacationers and business travelers alike have curtailed their movements, and colleges are forgoing the congratulatory handshake during diploma ceremonies. Where does that leave those of us who pride ourselves on our good graces when the introductory handshake is on the outs and interactions can lead to infections? Etiquette deals with behaviors and etiquette does have something to say about contagious individuals wandering among us.
Sickies Stay Home -- Put your ego aside. While we would all like to think the world would stop if we were unable to be in the office for the day, this is just not the case. If you are really sick, really stay home. Better to stay home and get well then to be the cause of a local outbreak.
Common Colds & Seasonal Allergies -- Medicate as necessary so that your nasal passages are not cause for alarm. Do bring your own supplies. This includes an ample supply of tissues as well as somewhere to deposit the ones you have used. Nose blowing should occur only in an office with a closed door or the bathroom; never in a meeting and certainly never in a restaurant. If you are so sick that solo-nose blowing would require constant trips to the facilities, then you are too sick to be out in public.
Do Not Share -- Keep your germs to yourself. When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief. After you blow your nose, wash you hands. Sneezing into the fabric at the elbow of your shirt is fine if you are in pre-school. Once you are older than 5, you should have a tissue at the ready.
Dis The Handshake -- If you are sick, excuse yourself from the customary handshake. Hand-to-hand contact is the most common way to spread germs. Indicate to others, preferably before they are standing with an outstretched arm, that you are at the tail end of a cold and will not be shaking hands. Modified bows as a greeting are gaining in popularity!
Tattle When Needed -- It takes a village to raise a child and an informant to stop the spread of the flu. If you are traveling and notice another passenger running a fever or apparently ill, do take the time to bring this situation to the attention of the gate agent or conductor. Aiding and abetting germs crossing state and international boarders is not advised.
Super Spring Clean -- In addition to frequent hand washing, take the time to do some light cleaning. Whether at home, in the office or at school, take a cleaning wipe to all doorknobs, sink handles, and commonly touched surfaces such as the telephone and the television clicker.
Listen to Grandma -- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Millions of dollars of medical research has finally confirmed that your grandmother was right all along. To stay healthy, sleep well, eat well, drink lots of water and wash your hands regularly.
While we watch and wait to see if the H1N1 ("swine") flu is short lived, etiquette reminds us to return to basics -- if you are sick, stay home -- and challenges us to find gracious ways to interact and connect without touching.
Jodi R. R. Smith is a nationally known etiquette expert and author. To email your etiquette emergency, click to www.Mannersmith.com. Copyright © 1996-2009 Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce, copy or distribute this newsletter as long as this copyright and full information about contacting the author is attached.