Dear Helena,

When I have a cold, I carry tissue or a hanky to blow my nose on. But the other day the sniffles took me by surprise when I was on a bike trip and I stopped for lunch at a grill pub in this town with apparently really high pollen counts. My nose started running uncontrollably, and I blew my nose on my paper napkin. It got me thinking: Is it wrong to use your napkin as a hanky? Is it MORE wrong if the napkin is cloth versus paper? And what’s more, is it bad manners to blow your nose at the table, even if you’re not using your napkin? —Gazoontite

Dear Gazoontite,

According to Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and an allergy sufferer, you should leave the dinner table to blow your nose if possible. While some of the Post Institute’s advice seems removed from everyday life (like how much to tip your pool cleaner or golf caddie), in this area Peter Post is right.

Blowing your nose in public is acceptable, if not very charming. But don’t do it at the table. When you blow your nose in other situations—on the subway, for instance—people can edge away. At the table they’re stuck next to you and your germs. Though they don’t have to see your snot, they may be able to hear it when you snuffle, and that can be almost as bad.

It might seem like a hassle to leave the table every time you have to blow your nose. But if you stay put, rest assured you’re grossing people out. According to Elizabeth Bernstein, a San Francisco writer, “If a guy blew his nose in his napkin on a date, it would be pretty much a deal-breaker.”

Even hay-fever sufferers shouldn’t inflict their nose-blowing on other diners. Tim Whitney, a grad student in Brattleboro, Vermont, who gets very stuffed up during hay-fever season, says: “I always excuse myself even if I have to slip away repeatedly.” He admits, though: “I might blow my nose at the table if it was just my wife and me.”

There is one exception to the no-nose-blowing rule: If your nose is just a little runny because, for example, you overdid the wasabi, it’s OK to turn and dab discreetly.

But you shouldn’t use your napkin. Firstly, it might be greasy, in which case it’s not very nice to rub it against your face. Secondly, people don’t usually discard their napkins midmeal, so you’ll most likely be stuck with the dirty thing on your lap. Worst of all is if you actually spread it on your lap again, hoping the people you’re dining with will forget you wiped your nose with it.

If there is a dispenser of paper serviettes, it’s OK to take one and use it as a tissue—provided you discard it or put it in your pocket afterward. Don’t leave it on the table. You should never make a server clean up your contaminated tissue, no matter how much you tip.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

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