Etiquette, You, and the Flu: What to Do!

By: Maralee McKee


Before we jump right into things, I want to welcome some new family members! Hello to everyone who joined us from the etiquette dinner I taught for Dr. Wang, the Dean of Burnett Honors College, Thursday evening. This was my sixth year partnering with Dr. Wang, and like always it was an honor. It was also a joy meeting each of you and greeting past friends as well! Welcome to our blog family; please always keep in touch!

Now, on to today’s feverishly hot topic!

Swine flu, swine flu, swine flu! Like me, are you being made sick by it? Not literally, I hope, just sick of hearing about it on every news broadcast?

None of us wants to play with fire. You and I understand the danger. If we become ill, then our best case will be a few days of flu purgatory. At worst, if left untreated, or if we have other medical conditions that compound our flu ills, it could be life-threatening, or even deadly.

However, it’s not time for panic. Trust me — I’m the grand marshal of the panic parade! It’s the factory setting on my “what if” personality.

Flu and flu deaths are nothing out of the ordinary. Before the first newscaster uttered the words “swine flu,” there were already too many deaths every day in the United States from common strains. This one isn’t likely to take us all down, at least for now, because we have drugs that can give the nasty swine-flu virus a permanent knock-out punch.

My husband’s grandmother died eight years ago at the blessed age of 104. She was a young bride during the 1918 flu pandemic that killed over 40 million people. She shared stories of looking out on totally empty streets. It was eerie. Churches, stores, offices — everything was closed. Her world became a ghost town, both literally and figuratively.

Like you, I don’t want my family or me to catch it, especially my children. It’s unbearably sad, isn’t it, watching them suffer through high fevers, aches, general malaise, and stomach ailments. (It’s also unpleasant to clean up after the stomach upsets! For some reason, my two boys feel they need to come find me first to tell me they’re going to throw up. And 99% of the time this delay means my bedroom carpet is the unlucky recipient of their stomach contents. The Stanley Steemer people know our address by heart!)

We’re a nation of hand shakers, huggers, and, lately, even cheek kissers, trying to keep up with our continental cousins. The flu is creating a new social-distancing etiquette.

So in the midst of this new distancing, how can you go out and about, interact graciously, and still set flu boundaries that help protect you and your family?

Here’s your Monday Morning Mentoring for just that.

Until the flu is no longer a threat, here are five need-to-know tips. Keep in mind that these are temporary measures until we’re given the all-clear signal.

Your Top Five Tips for Interacting in the Midst of the Flu

1. Once anyone in your house comes down with the swine flu, quarantine yourself and everyone in your home. It takes up to a week for symptoms to incubate. So you could already be infected and just not feel the effects yet. It’s the honorable, although inconvenient, thing to do. It’s good citizenship to help protect our communities. (Of course, I’m not a medical doctor, so if you or anyone in your family gets the flu, please consult with your doctor right away!)

2. If you’re currently uncomfortable shaking hands, greet others with your hands behind your back. Other people then are less likely to extend a hand to you. Just make sure you greet them with eye contact and a big smile. If someone does extend a hand to you, say, “I believe I’m fine, but I don’t want to take the chance of passing along a virus to you.” Stating it this way gifts the other person with the benefit rather than extending the courtesy for your own benefit, as would be the case if you said, “Forgive me for not shaking your hand since I don’t want to take the chance of catching a virus.”

3. Carry tissues instead of grandmom’s dainty and lovely hankie with you. Hankies retain all the germs, so each time you go to retrieve one, your hands touch the germs.

4. It’s a great idea to carry a zip-top baggie to put each tissue in after use. When you get home, you can throw the day’s tissues away sanitarily without anyone ever accidentally touching one.

5. We’ve all been told to cover our noses and mouths with our hands when we cough or sneeze, but that’s just about the worst advice we could follow. Here are three better ways to handle the situation, keeping in mind that sneezing and coughing into a tissue is always the best choice. These are emergency backup plans.

Good: Bend your arm and cough into the inner part of your elbow. The downside of this method is that, unless you’re super limber, you’ll never get your nose and mouth close enough to the crook of your arm to catch all the germs. Plus, all the germs are now all over your arm — accidentally bump into anyone or anything and the germs are spread.

Better: Form your left hand (your right hand if you’re a lefty) into a fist and cough or sneeze into the ball of your fist where your thumb and first (index) finger meet. Why your left hand? It’s the one you use less often to handle items and hand things to others. Make sure to turn your head towards your shoulder, and don’t cough down on what’s in front of you — books, food, TV remote, etc. Also, pick your side! If there’s no one on your right, then turn your head to cough in the direction of your right shoulder, or vice-versa.

Best: Cough into your shirt by holding the neckline gently over your face. This will help keep the germs on you and prevent the droplets from being carried through the air to others. This is a great one for all of us to remember and to teach our children.

Again, remember these three measures are for when you’re caught without a tissue! When you do use a tissue, try to keep it only in your non-dominant hand for the same reasons above.

I know this post will generate lots of other illness and flu questions! Share yours in the comments and we’ll figure it all out together! My comment section is feeling a little lonely, so please come on in even just to say hi. I love hearing from you!

Today is my husband Kent’s birthday, so I’ll close for now and go pay special attention to my sweetie!

If you’re new here, please join me each week! It will be great having you as part of our family! Type your email address in the box below this post, and you’re all set!

See you on Wednesday for Reader Q & A! Ever sit with a group of people who were holding about five different conversations at the same time? Sure you have! Well, I have the answer for moving in and out of conversations with grace!



Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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