Etiquette Questions, Answered: Social Situations
Q. Is there a polite way to decline a handshake from a person who is clearly suffering from a cold?
Name withheld by request
A. In a perfect world, anyone who is sneezing, coughing, or blowing his nose would greet others with a wave. Alas, people aren’t always that considerate.
If you suspect that a germ-bearing hand is about to be proffered, try this preemptive tactic: Say, “Please excuse me for not shaking hands, but I feel like I’m coming down with something.” By implying that you’re the infectious one, you reduce the risk of causing offense. And if it’s too late and the hand is already extended? Sorry, you’re out of luck. Shake. Then find yourself some Purell, stat.