I’m utterly baffled by the experience I had this morning.
I have sinus issues that manifest mostly in the winter and spring. They can cause me to sniffle – there is not much I can do, it’s not loud, but I sound congested when I breathe, like I have a stuffed nose. Blowing my nose makes little to no difference – the problem is higher up. Medication provides temporary relief.
I was on the train this morning in an empty carriage when a well-dressed, senior citizen got on and sat opposite me. I paid little attention – I was quickly re-reading an article I had to submit that morning on my phone.
A few minutes after we left the station, she piped up. “Excuse me!” she said brightly, in a friendly, tone. “Do you have a tissue?” I always carry tissues and wipes, so in an equally bright, friendly tone, I said “Why yes, I do!” and started to reach into my bag to grab them, thinking she needed to borrow one.
“Good,” she replied. “Then I won’t have to listen to you sniffle the whole way”.
I slowly placed my bag back on the seat, unsure what to say. I wasn’t making huge sniffling sounds, I was literally just breathing. She’d really set me up for humiliation.
“It’s a sinus issue,” I told her sternly. “Blowing my nose makes no difference. I thought you wanted to borrow a tissue”.
And with that, I went back to my article, fuming for the next two stops, when I got off.
As I disembarked, she quipped, “Have a nice day!”
I almost turned to scream, “Bugger off you old busy body!” but I kept mum.
What should I have said? It was so odd! 0710-14
I normally have an iron cast stomach but the sound of snot in a nose is enough to make me gag. And if I hear it at a restaurant or dining table, the chances I may retch go up considerably. I suspect you have no idea just how loud your sniffling actually is. If strangers are willing to approach you about it, it seems to me it is more noticeable than your nose merely being congested. “Sniffling” is the sound of nasal bodily fluids we are trying to either evacuate from our nose or sniffling to keep it from dribbling out onto the upper lip…it is the sound of one’s nose dripping. Whether it is due to seasonal allergies or a cold virus or a bacterial sinus infection, the sound is the same for the hearer who cannot distinguish which is the source and therefore the etiquette must be the same for all possible scenarios. You cover your nose, you wipe your nose, you take whatever actions you can to mitigate the sound of your body leaking so the general public does not see it or hear it.
Judith Martin aka Miss Manners, in her book, “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated)”, page 295, advocates that people carry handkerchiefs, preferably cloth, and to hold it in one’s hand even if no longer needed as indicative of a “good faith” effort to address the problem of sneezing and sniffling.