After a particularly harrowing experience in 2nd grade where Ms. Cipriani didn’t have a box of tissues at her desk, I’ve always carried a pouch of pocket tissues on my person where ever I go. This resource became known throughout high school as I would happily dole out a mini-Kleenex tissue to anyone in my area with the sniffles. Now I ride the subway to work every day and am surrounded by strangers doing the last-gasp hard snffffpphh every thirty seconds in a desperate bid to keep the viscous waterfall from cascading down their noses, horrifying themselves and any small children in the vicinity.
My first instinct is to help and offer the tissues, but this seems like its own social gaff: eavesdropping on someone as they sniff; offering help to someone who might not want it; making them feel like scumbags in a moment of weakness, essentially saying “oh God ,you horrible snot-filled monster, please, for the sake of decent society, take some fucking tissues before you make the rest of us civilized folk gag, you uncaged, ravenous animal!!”
So, how do I politely help my fellow human people, countesses of courtesy?
– Johnny Tissueseed
Miss Manners says it is good to offer a tissue to a crying stranger. She also doesn’t oppose offering a tissue to a coughing or sniffling stranger.
Anna Post, of the Emily Post Institute, says it’s fine to hand out tissues to strangers.
I had thought that older etiquette required that men relinquish their handkerchiefs to any damsel in need, but a perusal of old etiquette books did not support this theory.
Victoria: This question! So adorable I could die, but I also don’t know the answer.
Jaya: Haha I know! Well okay, I think if I were the sneezy person, I would like being offered a tissue.
Jaya: I think of it like offering a seat to someone who clearly needs it. Some old people are gonna get offended like “why do you think I’m so old I need a seat?!” but i think most 80 year olds would appreciate it.
Victoria:You can ask nicely, like, “would you care for a tissue?” So you don’t imply they are gross. Tone is important here, I think.
Jaya: Definitely. you need to make sure it’s an offer, not a requirement. Though, from that person’s standpoint, what do you do when you blow your nose? Just put it in your pocket?
Victoria: Just… whatever you would do if you remembered to carry tissues anyway. But yeah, put it in your pocket.
Jaya: But on the subway specifically there’s no place to throw it out! Okay, i guess that’s alright. Eeewwwwww.
Victoria: Let’s make UC handkerchiefs and hand them out on the subway.
Once on a train I happened to have a handful of cough drops in my bag, and was seated across from a woman who was having a coughing fit. I offered her one and she gave me such a dirty look that I’ve never tried again! I was only trying to be helpful.
That’s especially crazy. Cough drops during a fit should be received gratefully!