Blowing your nose at work: how it’s done

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You see it happen a lot: people blowing their nose. Not something you really pay attention to. At least, I never did.

Until a discussion about this took place on LinkedIn, right under one of my Dutch articles. It was about choosing between a paper towel and a fabric handkerchief. What is better, more hygienic and looks more professional? It’s about time to get this resolved and talk to etiquette expert Anne-Marie van Leggelo, owner of Het Etiquette Bureau (The Etiquette Agency).

How it’s done

Sneezing your nose at work: how it’s done


What is the formal etiquette when it comes to blowing your nose at work? And what about sneezing?

“Always try to do it as discretely as possible. The best thing to do it to walk to the bathroom to blow your nose with a paper towel. Blowing your nose in public is not very elegant.

The same applies to sneezing. But if you can’t walk out because you’re in a meeting, try to turn your head away and place your inner left arm or elbow in front of your mouth. You often shake hands at work and it is not hygienic to cover your mouth with your hand when sneezing. If you do use your hand for sneezing, try to use your left hand. Because you use the right one for shaking hands.

Furthermore, I would recommend to wash your hands afterwards. A little bottle of hand sanitizer or wet wipes can also help to keep your hands clean.”


How about paper towels and fabric handkerchiefs? Which one is better and where do you keep them?

“Fabric handkerchiefs are actually a little old-fashioned. Not very common nowadays. Even though the handkerchief can be very cute or pretty, try not to use it. It is unhygienic and you always have to put it somewhere after use. A scrunched handkerchief in the pocket of your pants or jacket is not very professional.

If you insist on using one, keep it in the inside pocket. I would advise women to put it in their purse after use. This way, the handkerchief is out of sight. Oh, and change the handkerchief every day. That’s more decent.”

Sneezing your nose at work: how it’s done
Anne-Marie van Leggelo

What else is not-done?

“Don’t look at your handkerchief or towel after sneezing. That looks awful. Close the handkerchief immediately and store it somewhere or throw it away. Shaking hands while holding it does not look professional.

People also say “bless you” when someone sneezes. In a formal business setting, this is not appropriate. When you sneeze or blow your nose in public, try to do this a silently as possible, and then apologize. Other people at the table can nod, but are not supposed to say anything about it.”


It’s funny: the first time I had to sneeze after this interview, I suddenly realized that I automatically use my right hand. Good to know that that’s not appropriate. From now on, I will use the arm or left hand. A good habit to get into.   




2 reacties

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