Monday, April 15, 2024

Ask Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley: ‘I Feel A Sneeze Coming On In My Mask’

Help! What’s the etiquette for sneezing in public? Do I remove my mask or keep it on to spare others from my germs?

Etiquette tips on how to interact in today’s world. Have a question for Mr. Manners? Send your queries to and look for replies in the coming weeks. 


Q: I’ve occasionally found myself in public (where I always wear a face mask) and needing to sneeze. What’s the etiquette for how to do so when I have a mask on? Do I just sneeze into the mask? That seems pretty gross.

A: Presuming this is a random sneeze and you’re not exhibiting symptoms of COVD-19 or any other malady that should be keeping you at home until you feel better, drop the mask (if there is time), turn away from others in the vicinity and sneeze into the crook of your elbow. (We call this “the Dracula”—a move where you’ve pulled your arm to your face as the legendary vampire would do with his cape, leaving only his eyes visible.) Once the coast is clear, clean your nose, replace the mask and thoroughly wash your hands. 

If the sneeze (or a cough) sneaks up on you and you simply don’t have time to emulate Transylvania’s most famous son, keep your mask on. But don’t let the fact that you’re wearing a mask delude you into thinking it’s okay to skip full preventive action. A piece of cloth is only partially effective at blocking germs from leaving your mouth. And the American Lung Association advises that a cough can expel droplets at a whopping rate of 50 miles per hour. A sneeze’s molecules can travel at even twice that speed. Quick preventive action on your part can halt a spray in its tracks. 

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If possible, I’d advise having a spare mask and facial tissues with you, particularly if you are prone to hay fever or seasonal allergies. This way, you won’t be stuck wearing a soiled face covering for the rest of the day.

Bottom line: Rather than sending others ducking for cover, cover your mouth completely anytime a sneeze or a cough is at hand. 

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Photo by EVG photos via Pexels


Q: I know it’s probably because my husband and I have been quarantining for too long, but we are starting to argue about things that matter very little. Last week it was the toilet paper roll—over or under? This week it’s the ice-cube tray. Can you help settle a dispute for us? He says we should wait until the ice-cube tray is empty before refilling it. I say we should refill it after every time we remove a cube. Who is right?

A: Have you ever asked guests whether they want ice in their beverages only to peer in the freezer and find nothing but a stack of trays filled with a light frosty dusting? I doubt there’s a more chilling experience for a host. To avoid that scenario (and to ensure no others in the household have the experience either), pop out all cubes at once, use the ones you need and put the balance in a clean brown paper bag before restoring them to the freezer. (This will prevent the cubes from conjoining, as they often do when kept in a plastic bag or bin.) Re-fill the now-empty tray with fresh water and put it back where you found it.

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Given that ice can take anywhere from three to four hours to fully form, if you’ve created an ample stockpile in your brown bag you won’t have to worry about skating on thin ice the next time you offer someone a cold drink. 

If you’re really in a pinch and must make ice faster, try this trick: fill the tray with hot water rather than cold or lukewarm. Thanks to a phenomenon called the Mpemba effect—the details of which I will not enumerate here—you can shave as much as an hour from the ice-creation process.

With this matter now settled, I hope you and your husband can cut through the frostiness and go back to far more important topics—such as whether cheesecake is a pie or a cake.

Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is a nationally regarded expert who appears regularly in the media to discuss modern-day etiquette dilemmas — from how to split a check fairly to how to get a word in edgewise. Follow Thomas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more insights, listen to his brand-new podcast, “What Manners Most,” which will be focused exclusively on Coronavirus-related etiquette for the foreseeable future.


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