Just Behave: How to Shake Hands During Cold Season

Our etiquette maven answers your questions

BY August 11, 2016

"It was the cold and flu season, and as I was being introduced to someone I noticed they were coughing and sneezing. I didn’t want to shake hands (eeeew!), but thought it would be worse if I didn’t. What should I have done?"—Amy, Fort Myers

Dear Amy,

If you shook the person’s hand, I hope you were able to rush to the bathroom right away for a looooong washing of your hands. It’s really an unpleasant situation, but it’s usually worse if you don’t shake someone’s hand who reaches out to you, especially in a business situation. The hurt the other person may feel after being rejected could have much longer-lasting repercussions than getting a cold. If you were quick to say you had a cold and didn’t want to give it to the other person, that’s a perfectly wonderful response for not shaking someone’s hand. He or she may feel a little rejected at first, but after some thought, just might realize that you were the smart one for not wanting to share your cold/flu (wink ,wink).


"I was invited to attend the wedding of a close friend. The invitation was addressed to only me; however, I don’t think my friend knows I recently started dating someone. Should I call my friend and ask if I can bring my date? I’d have a lot more fun if my date were with me. Plus, it’s my friend’s third wedding and I know he hasn’t invited many people, so there should be room for one more. What should I do?"—Bill Naples

Dear Bill,

While you might be tempted to call your friend and ask, it might not be the best idea. Your friend will be put on the spot. He’ll feel obligated to tell you it’s OK to bring a date. Do you really want to put your friend in that position? You should be happy for your friend and be there to celebrate with those he considers his closest friends. It doesn’t sound like an over-the-top party but instead a celebration of a small circle of friends and relatives. Go support your friend alone. Learn about his new love and maybe you’ll learn a few things to help you with your budding new relationship.


"I was on a flight and was assigned the middle seat. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I decided to make the best of it. When my seatmates arrived, I found out they were a couple. I asked if they wanted to sit next to each other, and they said they’d prefer their window and aisle seats. I was stuck. They occasionally asked questions to each other and carried on a conversation, with me in the middle. What should I have done?"—Sally, Naples

Dear Sally,

Oh boy! Nothing like being invisible with your privacy violated for the ride ahead. Maybe if there are some bricks left over from the wall a certain presidential candidate wants to build, you could erect a temporary barrier. But, seriously, what you could do is open wide your daily newspaper for an extended reading, making the partner-to-partner communication rather more difficult—and sending a silent message of disapproval. I hope they didn’t bring smelly foods on the plane to share, too, and ask you to pass them along. You paid to be a passenger, not a waiter. Happy landings. 


Suzanne Willis is a hospitality consultant and the founder/CEO (Chief Etiquette Officer) of Mimi’s Manners, specializing in dining etiquette for children, teens and adults.

Related Images: