Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Won't Miss #17 - uncovered, open-mouth coughing (reflection)

If your germ-bra slips down, it's not going to protect anyone from disease.

One of my former high school classmates recently messaged me on Facebook to say that he was going to be meeting the head of a major Japanese company that had acquired his somewhat less major American company. He wanted any advice I could give him about dealing with this meeting. During our exchanges, he mentioned that a woman who went to Harvard or Yale or some impressive school and studied Japanese culture at a Buddhist monastery said that you had to carry a handkerchief, but she didn't say why and he wanted to understand the why of the things she told him. I guess really smart people don't have time for giving you reasons.

As far as I know, the reason most Japanese people carry handkerchiefs is to dry their hands in public restrooms that don't have dryers or paper towels, to wipe their brows in the horridly hot and humid weather, or to clean or wipe down surfaces that they want to sit on or interact with (like a wet bench after rainfall). The one thing they don't do with them is blow their noses or use them to cover their mouths while coughing. When I mentioned this to my husband, he joked that Americans didn't bother with handkerchiefs, to which I said that they didn't have to since they, by and large, didn't spray their bodily fluids omnidirectionally like a bacteria/viral shower when they were sick. We are taught to cover our mouths/noses when we do such things.

So, as you can see, I still don't miss all of the open-mouth coughing that I experienced in Japan and I haven't forgotten how gross it was. 


  1. My Thai boyfriends parents don't either! They also don't say "Excuse me" when they burp or "Bless you" when you sneeze (which I expected they would say since they're practicing Catholics!) So maybe it's not just a Japanese thing, but an Asian thing?

    1. I think it may indeed be something which happens all over Asia, but it's something I can't speak to in such a broad sense. Perhaps they're just less "germ-aphobic" than us?

  2. I tremendous pet peeve of mine. I get so tired of being coughed and sneezed on, especially on trains. Just last weekend, I got a nice cooter-filled sneeze nearly directly on me while on the Meguro line. I just expect it.

    I once worked for an eikaiwa place. Twas one of the big chain factories, but I cannot mention the name for I swore I would never utter it again. It sort of sounds like you are cold (Brrrr and then have the runs, Brrr+s****)

    Had student who must have had a permanent cold who would openly cough in my face in the classroom. I informed one of the staff. She said, "Oh we Japanese learn to never do that!" as if I were insane. Yea, most people learn but a lot seem to forget. Especially in public.

    But the constant sniffing of cold and allergy season is even more fun.

    1. Being trapped in a small classroom with someone who coughs in your face has to be one of the worst things to endure. I generally had a conversation about differences in manners with students at some point in time (during flu and/or allergy season) in which I discussed such things. It wasn't a subtle reminder to them not to sneeze and cough on me, but it often operated as one.

      I think that the swine flu scare was the only time people were actively encouraged to cover their noses and mouths when expelling fluids/germs. It was certainly the only time I saw "manner" ads (both on T.V. and in print) about such things. Clearly, it did not stick. ;-)

    2. I know exactly what you mean! And yet so many of their fellow countrymen (and women) deny that this behaviour exists even when it is happening in their very presence! It is crazy! You captured the feeling when you said "as if I were inane". Gaaaahhhhhhh!

  3. I actually observe the exact opposite; while travelling in Taiwan I actually see a majority of the public wearing face masks and such, even when they're not sick.


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