Bad manners to go to a dinner with casual aquaintances when you have a cold?
November 3, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

It's 3pm now. Going to an event, a dinner, that starts at 6pm hopefully, but I have a cold. Might it turn out that I am unwelcome at the event if I go? Thing is, I know exactly who gave me the cold and don't really thank them for it. Is it bad etiquette to go to something like this if you have a cold? They are not friends or anything that I would otherwise be exposed to.

I'm a bit wary of asking this on the internet, of course, because the knee-jerk "internet answer" is whatever people believe is best for them, which is no. I'm looking for real world experience. I.e. how do you feel if someone shows up with a cold in this context?
posted by Nish ton to Society & Culture (24 answers total)
If there's a fever involved, I'd be miffed if someone showed up that was sick. Same with vomiting, diarrhea, pink eye, etc. A cold - meh, I wouldn't be miffed. However, I would appreciate it if there was a concerted effort to keep the symptoms under control. Take some cold medicine so you're not sniffling, sneezing, coughing. Bring hand sanitizer and use it often. Bring tissues and dispose of them appropriately. Keep your distance - don't shake my hand, don't hug me. A simple, "I have a bit of a cold and don't want to share!" would suffice for an explanation.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:10 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my officemate shows up to work coughing and sniffling, I wish she would go home and I stay as faraway as I can all day.
When someone with a cold ends up sitting next to me at dinner, I wish he hadn't come, and try to have him pass me anything or to shake hands.
When my husband comes to bed with a hacking cold I sleep with my back to him and try to avoid breathing his air.

Someone gave you this cold, please do not pass it on to someone else.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:12 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Things that would make a difference for me:

How sick are you? If you are feverish, coughing horribly, have a bad sore throat and just generally look miserable, I'd be mentally spraying you with Lysol all evening and thinking really bad things about you.

How gross are you? Horking; loud, snotty sniffling; obvious mucus-swallowing; prolonged sneezing or coughing; a really phlegmy sounding cough... that is really disgusting when people are trying to eat.

If you are just a little sniffly and coughy, I probably wouldn't think much of it. Just please don't blow your nose at the table or cough into your hand before passing the rolls. Oh, and beg off shaking hands for the evening.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think the biggest factor is how you feel. If I invited you to a party, and you came looking sick and miserable, coughing for a few minutes mid-banter, then yeah, I would have preferred you stayed home. I'd feel bad for dragging you out. But if you feel pretty ok and will have a fun time, just sniffling into kleenex occasionally, then sure go party.
posted by Garm at 12:23 PM on November 3, 2012

how do you feel if someone shows up with a cold in this context?

Annoyed that they put their own desires ahead of the health of the other attendees.
posted by grouse at 12:29 PM on November 3, 2012 [15 favorites]

Is it a seated dinner, i.e. some poor sot has to sit next to you for an hour while you sniffle? Then please don't go. Colds can be a real problem and you never know when the person you give it to has a predisposition to pneumonia or small children they care for or... etc.

If it's a thing where anyone who'd rather not be in your orbit can easily stay away from you? Then as long as your symptoms aren't obvious to the person you're talking to - i.e. no gross cold-voice, no coughing, no rheumy eyes - then you're ok.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2012

Because there is a group of people involved, there is a good chance that some may take offense at your attending with a cold, while some won't care. I don't think you can predict how people will react, but the fact that there is food being served may also increase the chances of offense.
posted by orme at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2012

I've always believed that the incubation period (time when I can catch your cold) is over by the time you show visible cold symptoms. So if you feel ok, then I wouldn't mind being in your company.
posted by susandennis at 12:34 PM on November 3, 2012

If you can control your symptoms (via cold medicine) so you aren't coughing, sneezing, or sniffly, then I think you're ok to go. Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, and don't touch anyone (or anything they might eat).

But if you are still coughing and sneezing, then you are still spraying little viruses out at everybody, in addition to being a little gross for dinner.
posted by nat at 12:37 PM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would not be upset if someone with a cold showed up at an event like this.
posted by zippy at 12:39 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I know that someone in my presence is ill with something contagious (a cold or flu, as opposed to allergies or asthma), I'm offended that they would risk the health and safety of others for their own entertainment. It completely ruins my enjoyment of the event, because I have to immediately start practicing prophylaxis and planning for possible eventualities, like canceling client sessions and paying for doctor visits. (That said, if someone is just starting to get ill, or has only been ill for a day or two, I'm more annoyed, vs. if the illness' onset was a week previous, and less-likely-contagious symptoms are merely hanging on.)

You have no idea what the immune systems of the people present are like, and assuming you don't pose a danger to them beyond mere social annoyance is short-sighted. Those with compromised immune systems, or even those with common health conditions (like diabetes) that can be made much worse by a "simple" cold virus, already have to weigh whether it's worth going out in public during the colder months when more people tend to be sick. Why make it harder for them (us)?
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:51 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

It wouldn't offend or bother me if you showed up and made a reasonable effort not to give your cold to anyone. OTOH, if you told me you weren't coming because you didn't want to spread your cold, my reaction would be "That's thoughtful of them! They are a generous person!" rather than "Why are they making an excuse not to come?"

The thing is, as susandennis says, I'm under the impression that most/all of your contagious period for a typical cold is before you show symptoms. So I figure that if there's a cold going around, I'm going to get it no matter what people do in this kind of situation.

If anyone there has infants or immunocompromised people in their household, though, even if said babies/etc won't be at the party, that would tilt me towards not going.
posted by hattifattener at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2012

When I have a cold and have to be around others, I avoid the obvious transmission points like shaking hands, hugging, kissing cheeks, etc.
posted by cecic at 1:08 PM on November 3, 2012

As someone (STILL) recovering from the cold of doom, I'd thank you to be considerate and stay home with your germs.

Hope you feel better soon.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:13 PM on November 3, 2012

I'm immunocompromised but you wouldn't know it to look at me (I'm neither elderly nor an infant). If someone showed up at a dinner and sat next to me and my food while they had cold symptoms, I would not appreciate it. This goes double if it isn't even a close friend whose company I could at least enjoy while trying frantically to not inhale their air.
posted by telegraph at 1:17 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This wouldn't bother me. In the winter months in the Northeast, I assume someone will have a cold, wherever I'm going.
posted by lyssabee at 1:27 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Stay home. No one likes coughing- especially around food.
posted by Summer Fall at 1:56 PM on November 3, 2012

It really depends on how sick you are. During winter in New England, it's pretty much impossible to gather a group of more than 4 people without someone having a cold. Of course, level of your own sickness isn't a guarantee of how someone else will feel, but it's pretty much impossible to sequester yourself all winter here. If you're sick enough to be thinking bad thoughts about the person who was supposedly the origin of your cold, you're probably not in the best shape for a dinner party.
posted by barnone at 2:06 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be fearful for all the grandmothers and unvaccinated infants at home.

While you might be relatively certain that you're not carrying flu around, nobody else can discern that by looking at you.

And even a tiny cold can be miserable for a new baby, pregnant lady, or elderly person.
posted by bilabial at 2:22 PM on November 3, 2012

Wow. Do lots of you just never leave the house in the winter?

I wouldn't go to a party if I was running a fever or something (or if I was feeling miserable), but for a stuffed up/runny nose, I wouldn't worry. It's nice to try not to cough on folks, though.

On the other hand, I work at a university, so I'm just continually exposed to disease vectors.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:31 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can transmit a cold for as long as you have the cold. I'm sympathetic to the argument that colds should be kept at home, so at a certain point "I have a cold and I don't want to spread it" would be a decent excuse. It may or may not be liked, and your hosts might say "oh don't worry, it's just us, and we've both had that cold," you might change your mind, right?

Under any circumstances, showing up to a dinner with a snoring cold, involving lots of hacking and nose-blowing, is just gross and should be avoided if at all possible.

The question is, how long have you had this cold? Did you just get it today? I feel like you should have said this sooner than three hours before the dinner if you've had the cold for a while. If any of these people have seen you, exaggerating your symptoms won't get you an emergency pass.

tl;dr I would accept "I don't want to spread my cold" as an excuse for cancelling a dinner, but unless the person's cold just came on that day, I would be really angry that they tricked me into cooking dinner for them only to cancel three hours before, when they could have told me the day before. So if you don't go, you should apologize more than usual (follow up with a handwritten note) and promise to make it up to the hostess, say by taking her out to a restaurant once your cold clears up, and then keep the promise.
posted by tel3path at 2:50 PM on November 3, 2012

Some people, when they get a cold, are mildly inconvenienced for a day or two. They're tired or sniffly, probably a bit less effective than normal, but then they get past it and are fine.

Others of us catch the same cold, and if we're down for a day we're down for a week, or even two. Completely unable to function, miserable to the point where we can do nothing but stare through a mucous fog, sleep, and go through boxes of tissues and cold meds.

This sucks, and there's absolutely nothing we can do to prevent our body's sensitivity to these germs. Also, I am a normal, healthy 30-something, without "immunocompromised" status. So lots of people assume I'll get the same mildly inconvenient cold they had. I should, but I don't.

So that's a no: don't go to a dinner party if you're getting sick. Save your germs for yourself.
posted by nadise at 4:00 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Don't go if you have a fever, or are coughing & sneezing. If your symptoms are under control, take hand sanitizer, and use it often. Don't shake hands or hug, telling people "I had/may have a cold and want to be cautious."
posted by theora55 at 4:20 PM on November 3, 2012

I caught a virus from someone at a public event (as far as I can tell), and then I developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

I REALLY wish people wouldn't go out when they know they are sick.
posted by wintersweet at 10:39 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

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