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20-40-60 Etiquette---Table manners for the nose

To ask an etiquette question, email Helen:


By Callie Athey, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: Your sensible feature on manners and etiquette is always enjoyable, addressing as it does so many often overlooked pleasantries that oil social discourse.

A topic I’ve never seen mentioned is the repellent nose-blowing at a dining table, public or private. Particularly disgusting is the often following examination of the resulting contents of napkin or handkerchief “as though expecting to find rubies and pearls.” This last a quote from the masterful Renaissance sculpture and goldsmith (1500-1571) Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography.

One must feel great sympathy for the unfortunate person who must then clear the table, removing such soiled napkins whether cloth or paper. Any thoughts?

CALLIE'S ANSWER: Yes, I agree. Blowing your nose at the dinner table or in public is disgusting and rude. The bathroom or by yourself are the only acceptable places to do this.

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Gross. This is not one of life's "overlooked pleasantries" that you refer to in your question, but just gross. If you sneeze suddenly at the table, of course it's better to grab a napkin and sneeze into it to protect everyone around you. But if it's a big sneeze, or if you feel like you need to keep blowing, excuse yourself and do so privately, disposing of the napkin or tissue yourself. But try to avoid doing any of this at the table if you can. And if you can't, make it discreet -- without inspection -- and take care of the tissue yourself. Have mercy on your dining companions -- and your servers.

HELEN'S ANSWER: Thanks for the shout out about our manners and etiquette column.

Nose blowing in public is disgusting! The person should excuse himself from the table or from the group to blow his nose. There is no way around it, even if nose dripping comes on suddenly.

Nose blowing is even gross in your own home if there is an audience. And always clean up after yourself, as no one wants to have to dispose of germ-filled tissues.

GUEST'S ANSWER: Yvette Walker, The Oklahoman night news director and University of Central Oklahoma Media Ethics Chairman: As one who suffers from hay fever, pet dander allergies and other related ah-choos, I feel the pain of those diners with runny noses. However, casually discarding soiled tissues at the table -- while convenient -- is disgusting.

And there is NO reason to inspect the contents at the table. If you feel compelled to do so, excuse yourself and go to the restroom. I could argue that my allergy nose-blowing is different from someone with a cold, because I would not be spreading germs. But let me step into the shoes of the service person for a moment: Would I want to pick up those slimy tissues and napkins? No!

Next time you sneeze, put that soiled tissue or napkin in your purse or pocket. If you have no place to put it, wrap it securely in another tissue or napkin so that no one will come into contacts with those “rubies and pearls.”

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus.

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Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›

Lillie-Beth Brinkman

Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman Read more ›