Allergy Etiquette

21 Mar

Letterbalm Man Sneezing with TissueDear LetterBalm: I have serious allergies that rage year-round. I’m talking about sneezing and coughing jags, watery eyes and general wheezing. I look like a walking advertisement for five kinds of flu. Understandably, this puts people off, especially strangers in public who don’t know my history. I’ve lived with this for so long, that I automatically try to be as subtle as possible. I leave the table or the theater if I have a sneezing fit, I keep used tissues out of sight, and, if I can, I step away to use my inhaler in private. What can I say to reassure people that I’m not infectious, that I can’t help my allergies?

–Wait, I Have To Sneeze

Gesundheit! It must be a trial to endure your allergies, and you seem to be handling them with respect to those around you. In this age of flu-borne illnesses and viruses originating in everything from swine and mice to chickens, people are understandably nervous. Keep it short and appropriate when you’re not sneezing. Several phrases:

Sorry. Bad allergies. [To passengers on the bus and fellow shoppers.]

I’m sorry. I’ve managed allergies all my life. [To clients, dinner partners, fellow moviegoers, fellow students in class.]

As you can see, I have allergies. I’ve managed them well, and they don’t affect my abilities, but they’re part of me. [To a first date, a prospective in-law, a prospective boss.]

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