Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Illness Etiquette

“Oh… do you mind if I don’t shake your hand?” Mrs. E.’s opthomologist peered into her oozing eyes. Conjunctivitis. Probably viral. “Pink eye.”

The doctor went on to explain that we don’t have much of an illness etiquette here in the United States, and, if the definition of etiquette includes considering others’ before oneself, we’re much the poorer — especially health-wise — for it.

I don’t advocate a return to the masks worn by the Plague Doctors during the Black Death (seen above), but we should adopt a certain decorum if we are ill and determined to move about society.

(Photo: SATOKO KAWSAKI PHOTO for Japan Times)

Yes, this does look a bit goofy and for a country full of men afraid to wear a proper hat, it probably won’t catch on. These are actually allergy masks being sported during pollen season in Japan, but I bet they wear them during avian flu scares too.

So, get your flu shots, wash your hands a lot, cough into your elbow and try not to shake hands. I may even adopt the Victorian practice and execute a slight bow or tilt of the head upon meeting, with the explanation that I wouldn’t want to pass along my illness. You don’t have to wear a hat to do so. (By the way, it was once the case that a man wouldn’t shake a lady’s hand unless she offered it to him first.)

(Image source: Angelpig)

Or better yet, take advantage of technology and stay at home whilst telecommuting, if at all possible. That would be the easiest, and most elegant, solution.

10 thoughts on “Illness Etiquette

  1. What a timely post…we are suffering from flu/coughs/sniffles/heebie-jeebies in this neck of the woods. I think churches are a prime spot to get sick. I have listened to people tell me how sick (hack, hack, sniffle) they are and then want to shake my hand, hug my neck and kiss me on the cheek.

  2. Jolly good post, and may I wish Mrs E a speedy recovery?

    Might I also seek your opinion on a matter of illness etiquette not covered above? I myself have been rather unwell these last couple of years but have always striven to continue the elegant lifestyle including, of course, mode of dress. I have been most surprised by the attitudes of those around me who seem to think that because one is or has been ill one should obviously appear so. “You don’t look ill”, I am often told in such a way as to suggest my attire is not “suitable” for a sick person. Would you not agree that, wherever possible, one should try to dress elegantly – if only to take one’s mind off one’s plight? Is the attitude described indicative of an inelegant society?

  3. Hello Mr. Partington-Plans, I hope this reply finds you well. Keep fighting the good fight.

    Do you recall that scene at the end of the Bill Murray version of “The Razor’s Edge”? When Denholm Elliot makes his regrets to a (fictitious) dinner party invitation, even though he is shortly to expire? There’s no reason to let down the side.

    I make it a point to wear a coat and tie to my (many) doctors’ appointments. Often, in radiation oncology, where I go for follow-ups, people will smile at me. I like to think that they know I’m survivor and so have a bit of hope about the whole mess. Besides, I’ve often said that the worse I feel, the better I will dress. It may not be in a coat and tie always, but it will be in luxurious fabrics and well-fitted clothing.

    Elegance as a practice, isn’t really strived for or seen as a worthwhile pursuit in today’s world. It is far better to be “cool”, a word describing an attitude that may have been prevalent amongst the dandies of the Regency era.

    Perhaps our aesthetics have changed too drastically. Then again, it is the youth who set the fashion and nobody wants to be too grown up.

    Donna, get well soon!

    Mrs. PvE, me too.

  4. My hands are so dry from all the washing this winter.

    For all the germ phobia and awareness we have, I am amazed that most people don’t wear gloves anymore. I take a very crowded subway to work and nobody, even on the coldest winter days has their hands covered. We could avoid a lot of germs just by wearing gloves and we certainly would look better turned out.

  5. Illness of body is best off-set with put-togetherness. At times, the severity makes anything other than pajamas impossible, but whenever one is able, one should put one’s self together. It inspires those nearby, especially if they are in similar condition, letting them know that dignity and spice of soul will prevail regardless of what may befall the body.

  6. … also, I like the hand over the heart with a VERY slight bow… almost a nod. At the same time, I say “Forgive me, I don’t want to pass on the cold going around”. With sincere regret that you will not be engaging in the cheek kiss or hand shake, you will at least be understood.

  7. One of the few advantages of winter is that I can wear gloves and a scarf. I’m happy to be wearing gloves if I have to touch a pole on a subway train. And I can use the scarf briefly to cover my mouth and nose if there is a lot of soot in the air from the locomotives when I get off the commuter train at Back Bay Station in Boston.

  8. Wearing gloves while pushing the grocery cart and also when swiping & signing for all card purchases helps. I keep a pair of polarfleece gloves in the car for use at the service station. Also prevents hands from smelling like gasoline. But Mr. E, how do you suggest we handle meeting/greeting/ hand-shaking when out at dinner? People come by the table to say hello, or on their way in or out the door, stop to say hello and introduce their friends, and suddenly everyone is shaking hands over our dinner plates, including the ladies! What to do?

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