The Case of the Coughing Coiffeuse, Vol. 10, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer: As someone who does not patronize a particular hairstylist, my beloved went one Saturday to get a haircut at one of those chain places where they just take your name, no reservations required. It was fairly busy, of course, and while waiting he noticed two of the stylists coughing a lot, but still working on customers.

Sure enough, the woman that drew his name was one of them, and she coughed all over him during the haircut. Consequently, he's been sick since, and I am recovering from it now.

Is there anything one can do in that situation, or is it merely one's punishment for deciding to get a haircut last minute?

Dear Coughing:

Etiquetteer sympathizes deeply with your beloved's reluctance to speak up in this situation. It is very easy to feel embarrassed about calling attention to a stranger's health or hygiene. Etiquetteer can just see him now, shifting uneasily in his chair as Milady Barber calls from across the room "Number 43, [Insert Name of Beloved Here], *hack hack cough* right over here dear!" To call back "Thanks, I'll wait for the next person! I don't want Typhoid Mary cutting my hair" does nothing to relieve the situation.

But protecting one's own health, and the health of one's family (in this case, yours), is more important. There is a way to manage it with Perfect Propriety --  Perfect Propriety and a big gulp of Courage, that is, because communicating Rejection is necessarily uncomfortable. With an Air of Infinite Regret, your beloved could have asked "Would you mind terribly if I waited for the next available stylist? I see that you have a bad cough and I am very very sensitive about my health right now." The Air of Infinite Regret is essential to managing this successfully. One must be sure not to give the impression of blaming Milady Barber for having a cold; after all, it may not be her fault she's sick.

Your beloved could have managed this more proactively by sharing his concern with the receptionist and trying to book a specific, healthy stylist as soon as he noticed the other two coughing. Depending on the level of Customer Service Orientation, the receptionist should be able to accommodate him without difficulty or attitude.

For the future, allow Etiquetteer to encourage your beloved to find a long-standing arrangement with a barber who is healthy.