What's the etiquette on having friends visit when you're coughing?
January 7, 2013 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Social-Awkwardness filter: I'm a formerly shy person who's recently been getting out there and making friends. I've been sick for the past week. A few people have asked to come over/hang out despite this. I want to know what the etiquette is when you have a persistent cough that borders on retching. Do the people who try to hang out anyway really not care or are they just being polite? Am I going to alienate people by rejecting their multiple attempts to see me? I don't understand why they wouldn't just end up being disgusted by me constantly coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose and being a sick person.

If age matters we are from 20-30. I feel silly posting this but I spent so much of my life with no friends at all that I'm stumped as to the right thing to do here. I would love them to visit as it's getting lonely having been sick for a week now but I don't want to make a social faux-paus.
posted by Pericardium to Human Relations (26 answers total)
Persistent cough is one thing, but retching and constantly blowing your nose? I wouldn't want to see many people in that condition. If you've just been saying, "I'm sick," they may not realize the extent of it and are being polite.

Send them a message or tell them in person that you're too sick to hang out right now and you don't want to get them sick as well. Make a date for when you're feeling well again.
posted by cooker girl at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Personally I'm kind of blasé about minor sicknesses. I figure I'll get 'em or I won't get 'em. Unless you're prone to sneezing directly into my mouth or I have a really big deal event coming up in the next day or two, I generally wouldn't mind seeing you; and I'd tell you honestly if I was too grossed out to come.
posted by threeants at 2:23 PM on January 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

Put it on them. Tell them your symptoms and you'd understand if they don't want to be around you in your current state and then let them make up their own minds.
posted by mmascolino at 2:24 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

You have friends who like you enough to want to be around you even when you're sick. Stop beanplating, be thankful for them, and have 'em over.
posted by xbonesgt at 2:25 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd tell them "I'd love to visit you, but I'm still getting over this terrible cold and I'm just not up to it this week. Can we get together next week, perhaps?"
posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you have been sick for awhile, you should consider going to see a doctor. If you require an antibiotic, you can assure your friends that you are no longer contagious after 24 to 48 hours on antibiotics. That may make them more tolerant of your coughing and sneezing. Also, the doc can probably prescribe a cough suppressant which may make you less gross to be around.

Warn them you are sick. Have them over if they are still willing and make sure you have hand sanitizer around for everyone's safety.
posted by makeshiftjoy at 2:32 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a big difference between a garden variety cold and the HELLCOLD that is currently going around. I feel like a little cough and the occasional sniffle are totally no big deal, but if you are actually nearly retching and can't really stop coughing once you get going, and there is a lot of mucus happening, do everyone a favor and say, "Man, I am really disgusting right now, and I don't want to give this to you" and make plans for a future date.

One week of being unable to hang out because you are sick -- especially this time of the year, when everyone is sick -- is not going to damage any friendships.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do you want them to come or do you feel too sick/self disgusted by all the coughing? If you want the company, and they want to come by after you've warned them, great. If not, they'll still be there when you are OK.

Sometimes people want to come by because they're worried about you, or want to show you they care, not to watch you cough. But they'll understand if you say you just don't feel well enough
posted by bearwife at 2:36 PM on January 7, 2013

Let this be your decision, based on how you're feeling. Your new friends are not going to lose interest in you because you got sick for a week. If they like you enough to want to see you now, they'll still like you whenever you see them.

If you feel too sick right now to feel like doing anything, say that. You can also set up a concrete plan to meet in the future. Say something like, "I'm pretty sick right now, but are you free next Thursday? I'd love to get a drink/see a movie/go ice skating/fill in your activity of choice here."

If you feel up to socializing, tell them that you'd love to see them, but that you don't want to get them sick. Tell them that you're happy to have them come over this week, but if they'd prefer not to be exposed to the sick, you'd love to make plans next week.

Let this be about what you need to do to get better, and trust that they think you are an awesome person and will want to hang out with you whenever you're up to it.
posted by decathecting at 2:47 PM on January 7, 2013

If you have a really bad cold: "Ugh, I am super gross right now, snot everywhere and this super annoying cough. Raincheck? I'd love to hang out, but I don't wanna be patient zero for you guys."

Your friends will probably express some sympathy, ask how you're feeling and if they can do anything for you. Respond with whatever's true, and if necessary, gently deflect any attempts to come see you. Unless of course you really want someone to bring you soup or tissues or cold medicine or whatever. Some people love doing this kind of thing for friends, some people don't, you'll have to judge which it is when it comes to your friends.
posted by yasaman at 2:59 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I gave full disclosure of my horrible cold symptoms for my New Year's Eve party (I didn't want to cancel at the last minute and leave everyone without something to do, but I didn't want to be patient zero either), wore a mask, and washed my hands a lot and encouraged everyone else to do the same. I also kept my distance, a lot.

As long as they're aware of the problem and choose to take the risk, it's on them. Do what you can to mitigate it. And of course if you're really not feeling well enough to see people, then tell them so.
posted by asperity at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2013

I'm asthmatic, and once I catch even a minor cold it goes directly to my lungs and knocks me out for at least a week, sometimes longer. If it's the flu, I'll be sick for a month and mildly (quietly) enraged at my Patient Zero. If a friend tells me that they're sick but they still want to hang out, my first question is "what kind of sick?" I'll avoid coughers (pun intended) like the plague. Snifflers are fine with me. Tummy-sickness is my least favorite thing *ever* so I also avoid pukers, FWIW. As others have said, let them know your symptoms, let them know if you're still interested in spending time together despite feeling ill, and (extra politeness points) reaffirm that if they prefer to wait until you're well, you'd understand. And then be sure to request that raincheck once you're healthy!

Hooray for making friends! Former shy person fist-bump from here.
posted by pammeke at 3:06 PM on January 7, 2013

Yay for friends! I am in the same boat right now -- I'm lonely and shy when I'm healthy and well, but super popular just as soon as I catch a cold.

My go to response is, "Oh man, I would love to see you right now but I have a cold and kind of sound like death. Let's reconnect when I'm better. What are you up to next week?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:23 PM on January 7, 2013

Tell them thank you for caring, tell them you REALLY are sick, and reschedule. Don't do this to them, there is no way to predict how it might impact if they catch this...
posted by HuronBob at 3:32 PM on January 7, 2013

What HuronBob said: Don't do this to them.

IMO it's not your feelings, symptoms, or friends' bravery, but rather a public health issue. Inviting people into your home when you've got a cold or flu virus is a great way to transfer it to them, and thru them to others. So don't.
posted by LonnieK at 3:48 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you feel well enough to hang out, just let them know your symptoms and let them decide whether they want to hang out or not. FWIW, I have long had issues with allergies (so on any given day I may be super sniffle-y/sneeze-y) and had a recently-resolved issue with a persistent cough that lasted for over a year. Obviously I don't go out of my way to sneeze/cough on people, but it certainly hasn't prevented me from making and keeping friends!
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:29 PM on January 7, 2013

I would say probably don't invite people over to hang at your house if you're coughing so badly that you're retching, or if your sinuses are still dripping like a faucet.

I don't know that I'd quarantine myself or anything, and I probably would accept invites to hang out in public (go for a drink, see a movie, the like) while feeling well but outwardly manifesting a cold. But I think if you're obviously no fun to hang out with or otherwise not well enough to go out, better wait till you're really feeling up to socializing. There's no rule that you have to see people every day.
posted by Sara C. at 5:29 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I lost my voice right before the holidays and still had dinner with a friend because I was feeling perfectly fine despite the loss of voice and was getting REALLY restless on my own after a few days of quarantine and getting better. My dinner companion was kind of erm? about it but I was like NO I AM FINE TOTALLY FINE LET'S SOCIALIZE. If I were dripping snot or retching coughing though, ew, no I wouldn't have gone out. It's just uncomfortable and kind of rude, I'd wait till you're better.
posted by sweetkid at 6:23 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like it would be difficult to actually hold a conversation with you. Mention this to them, and come up with a fun activity (but easily postponable, in case you take longer to get better) for two weeks from now, and set a date and invite everyone. Movie, game night, dinner, whatever. That way, you're not rejecting them, you're maintaining the connection.

Also, try to get a prescription for a cough suppressant (OTC ones don't work well for sustained coughs). These coughs can go on for a while (not good in a movie theater or, really, anywhere), weeks or months, and they can be very inconvenient and can damage your voice. I don't know if your voice is important for your work, but it's worth thinking about. The cough can prevent your sleeping, too, which can slow down your recovery. If you're this sick, a doctor's visit is probably in order.

If you do want visitors, then getting the prescription can facilitate that.
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: Oh yeah and no way would I let people in my house if I'd been coldy sick. Because house full of germs. Don't do that.
posted by sweetkid at 6:25 PM on January 7, 2013

Generally speaking, it's a good idea to avoid inviting people over when you're sick, to minimize the spread of infection. (I'm more conservative about it than some because I have loved ones who are immunocompromised.) But it sounds like your friends are insistent on seeing you -- I'd say, give them fair warning and let them come over, as long as that's what you want.
posted by linettasky at 8:40 PM on January 7, 2013

One major point of etiquette is that you don't invite people or accept invitations if you're infectious.

There is a little pertussis epidemic this year in the US and also several bad colds and a bad flu. You don't know what you have and you're coughing a lot so no, you shouldn't invite them over since you don't know what you're exposing them to. Just tell them you're sick and have a horrible cough, then listen to them tell you about their mother's horrible cough she just had and make concrete plans for next weekend.

Then go to a doctor and make sure you're not infectious with something horrible.
posted by fshgrl at 9:02 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can speak as somebody who had a cough *for a month* that eventually you'll want to socialize anyway. If you're run down, or if there's a reasonable chance that you're still contagious, than it's gift to everybody to take a rain-check; but if it's just terrible *sounding,* then your friends can be expected to forgive you. Learn to cough into your elbow instead of your hand -- that's what they teach the kids these days -- and you'll be spreading a lot less of your mucus to things you touch, which keeps the grossness to the sounds and sights of somebody being sad. Friends can sympathize with that and try to cheer it up.
posted by acm at 7:44 AM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: The main thing I was missing here is the follow up. I was just like, "Sorry, I'm still too sick" or "I'm coughing like crazy" without suggesting any other times to hang out. So I went and suggested alternate days/things we could do so they'd know I really did want to see them.

Decided not to have them over because of what sweetkid sad. I also share the sentiment that "house is germy! Agh!" and do not really want to be here myself right now because I keep thinking I'll get reinfected!
posted by Pericardium at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

That sounds perfect Pericardium. Glad you followed up with everyone so they know you'll have a plan to hang out once you're better.
posted by sweetkid at 9:44 AM on January 8, 2013

I'd say politely decline and tell them you're really sick. Once you're better you can reiterate your interest in them as friends by inviting them to something. Everyone understands when someone can't hang out because of sickness.
posted by christiehawk at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2013

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