Etiquette Q&A About Sneezing, Talking to the Big Boss, Tipping the Dog Groomer & Eating Chicken

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for!

I asked for your etiquette questions, and they’ve poured in! It’s funny, I’ll be reading one reader’s question, and my email box pops up two times letting me know I have two new ones waiting.

Today we have four questions that couldn’t be more varied. Yet each question deals with something common enough that all of us will encounter it on a regular basis.

~What’s the best thing to say when someone nearby sneezes?

~ Should I tip the dog groomer? If so, how much should I tip?

~ Is it OK to start a conversation with the big boss in passing when she hardly knows me?

And lastly:

~ What’s the etiquette of eating chicken with your fingers?

They all sound like great question topics to me! Below are the full questions. Let’s find out the answers!

1.) What’s The Best Thing to Say When Someone Nearby Sneezes?

Q. Thank you for sending your informative and helpful weekly newsletter! I have a special folder that I direct your emails to so I can easily go back and reference them.

My question is about what to say or not say when someone sneezes. Sometimes a sneeze is just unavoidable and somewhat uncontrollable. I’ve always felt uncomfortable saying “Bless you!” because it seems to draw more attention to the person who might already feel embarrassed.

I’ve been in church settings where someone sneezes and 25 people call out, “Bless you!” While it was amusing to hear, if I had been the sneezer, all that attention would have been unwelcome.

A. If you’re near someone who sneezes, silently and slowly count to three or four before saying “Bless you!” or “God bless you!” This oh-so-brief waiting period will be the time that others nearby will say “Bless you!” if they’re ever going to. If no one else says it by then, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll be the only one.

The social habit of blessing someone after a sneeze came about during the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (approx. 550 AD), whose predecessor died at the start of the Plague of Justinian. In hopes of squelching its spread, Pope Gregory began praying in earnest.

He also sent people out to pray street-by-street. Each time a sneeze was heard, they called out “God bless you,” hoping to replace the plague with the blessing of health in the person. Did it work? It was one of the briefest plagues in history.

Today, the custom is mostly tradition, but it’s a wonderful one! It unites us in a moment of unselfishness, where we verbally acknowledge the other person (stranger or friend) and wish them blessing and health. Continue to verbally bless on every appropriate occasion. Just make sure you’re one of the few nearby, not one of the many a row or so over!


2.) Should I Tip the Dog Groomer, and How Much?

Q. I love, love, love your column! I send it to everyone I know! It’s always full of tips that I can actually use! My question is short. Are you supposed to tip the dog groomer?

A. Yep! 15-20% is the norm, the same as tipping a hair stylist. If the dog groomer is also the owner, then sometimes they aren’t tipped because they’re not sharing a percentage of their fee with the shop. Nowadays, most owners accept and appreciate the tips. I tip mine even though she is the owner. She deserves it for her hard work in making my furry one look great!


3.) Should I Talk to The Big Boss in Passing?

Q. Thanks for your weekly email newsletters. I heard you speak at my firm a couple of years ago and put the advice you shared into practice. Now I open your newsletters first thing!

If you’re passing a supervisor (director/manager) at work who doesn’t speak first, should you say anything or just act like you don’t see the person? Whose responsibility is it to speak first? For background: I work for a large company, and our CEO hardly knows me. In fact, I doubt she knows my name.

A. Always feel free to acknowledge anyone else. Offer a smile, brief eye-contact, and say “Good morning!” to everyone at work you pass — supervisor, CEO or a member of the cleaning staff. This will earn you the reputation of a gracious, open, and approachable associate and co-worker. As far as a full conversation, unless you have business information to relay, your best bet is to acknowledge others without interrupting them.

4.) What’s The Etiquette of Eating Chicken With Your Fingers?

Q. I hope you choose my question! We were talking about this the other day while eating chicken and decided to ask you. When can we eat chicken with our fingers?

A. Great question! I’m happy to answer. If chicken is fried, it’s always a finger food, so pick it up and enjoy. Fried chicken is family dinner, country buffet, picnic, and backyard fare. It shouldn’t be served in places that are formal. If the chicken is baked or broiled and you’re eating indoors, with a knife and fork at your place setting, use the utensils!

What’s Next?

Until next time, keep doing what only you can do! Bless yourself and others by being you…at your best. Have a fantastic week! If you have an etiquette question, you can send it to me at Due to the LARGE volume, I can’t answer all of them. However, I’ll try to feature them in one of our many upcoming Q&A columns. 🙂

Hugs and blessings,

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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