Etiquette Moments On Illness

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series: Mind Your Manners with Nathalie Findlay

And now for a bit of seriousness.  But it won’t last long, don’t worry.

Illness. It can strike anyone anytime. It is one of life’s tests, and how one reacts to the news can often determine the prognosis.

Fighting a battle against disease can be quite hard work in itself, but it’s made worse by the tactless comments and actions of those around.

While we all know that people have the best intentions, too often they get nervous and say the wrong thing, which will leave the sufferer politely cringing, hurt or uncomfortable. Talk about adding insult to injury!

So how should one handle the subject? In my opinion, it should be avoided, when possible. People are very swift at labeling others indelibly especially when it comes to a ‘weak point’ such as illness or disease. This can perpetuate the image of un-wellness, which is not a help to recovery.

If someone announces that they have a serious illness, and you want to show them you care, then please bear in mind the following points before putting your foot in your mouth.

  1. Somehow, people often manage to make it about themselves.  “Oh, you have cancer?  Well, I know just how you feel. I’ve got this terrible corn on my toe that just won’t quit.”  Don’t be that person.
  2. Remember that the person in front of you is living, breathing and thinking his or her illness 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They might not want to talk about it with you.  But, if they do, then let them do the talking.
  3. Don’t pry but do show some consideration.  ‘I’m very sorry to hear that, shall we go sit down?’ Acceptable questions can be ‘How long have you known?’ or ‘I’m not familiar with that condition, can you tell me about it?’  If you aren’t BFFs or family, then forget about trying humor, you’ll fall flat.
  4. If you do know of someone who has beaten the illness, it’s okay to share that info, as well as how they did it.  If you know of someone who has not recovered, then keep it under your hat.
  5. Forget about “Give me a shout if you need anything.”  That never works.  Be proactive in your offer to help by dropping off treats, coming over to collect ironing; arrange for a cleaner (by prior agreement) or have groceries delivered.   If you are at the shop, call and say “I am here, what can I bring back for you?”, which is a much easier offer to accept than having to ask someone to make a special trip.
  6. Send a card, by all means, but also keep in touch by phone or email.  It’s not because they can’t get to the party that they are not keen to learn all the juicy gossip. Learn to read the signals on when it’s ok to be present, and when the person needs some alone time.
  7. Don’t expect a thank you …  Your gesture probably made their week, but they might not be in good enough shape to tell you about it.
  8. Do not EVER give medical advice unless you are their physician.  Whatever you read on the internet does not qualify as sound advice.
  9. When telephoning, begin by asking whether it’s a good time to chat.  If it isn’t, then don’t linger.
  10. It’s okay to say “this is so unfair,” because that is exactly what illness is.
  11. If you are visiting in the hospital, keep your voice down as much as possible, respect the visiting hours, and do not expect the nurses to provide you with a cup of coffee. (though they sometimes will, because they are lovely people).  Look up the policy on flowers and plants and if they are not suitable presents, bring something that is.  Books or an iPod full of audiobooks are great alternatives.
  12. If someone is on a diet to improve their physical condition, don’t expose them to the forbidden elements like alcohol or a fudge cake.  And if you do, the comment: ‘Pity, you can’t eat this it’s delicious’ is both unnecessary and cruel.

If you are suffering from an illness, you probably already know how utterly tactless people can be and who your real friends are (because there are about three of them left).

It’s not your responsibility to teach people how to behave around you, but you might like to consider the following strategy to avoid getting into situations, which will invariably make you uncomfortable.

 Choose whom you tell: there are times when people will have to know all the details, but with others, you can keep the information limited.  ‘I’m a little unwell at the moment’ might be just enough to keep people from being too intimate and will explain why you are not your usual self.  Remember that the illness could likely become your new identity for as long as people will remember so don’t tell more people than really need to know.  Once you are well again, you will appreciate not having shared it liberally.
Be a good ambassador: you might suffer from a condition that many people are not familiar with …  If that is the case, then have a quick explanation ready so people don’t have to wonder how they should react.  For instance you could say ‘I suffer from an auto-immune condition called Lupus, so I get tired quite easily, but I’m ok for the moment so let’s get to work.’
Even good people will screw up and say or do the wrong thing.  Forgiveness is often key to healing, so practice it now.
Take care of yourself.  Follow an alkalizing diet to enforce your immune system and steer clear of toxins: cigarettes, sugar and alcohol to name a few.  You’ll garner much more support when people see how serious you are about fighting off the baddies.
Get well soon. xx

 

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Nathalie Findlay

After completing a degree in Fine Arts and another in Interior Architecture, Nathalie began modelling in New York, Hamburg, Munich and Paris where she eventually decided to base herself. Always on the lookout for opportunities to grow, she combined her modelling career with other areas of interest, working for the Canadian Embassy, Christian Liaigre, A Small World and Sotheby’s. She has also enjoyed appearing regularly as a presenter and speaker for television and media events and as a pit-lane reporter on Eurosport.

Exposed both personally and professionally to the intricacies of etiquette and protocol, Nathalie now focuses on applying her extensive knowledge-base practically, addressing matters of refinement, image and manners for individual and corporate clients with Lifestyling, a consultancy she created in 2007.

Nathalie lives in the French countryside with her husband, their baby and two Korthals.

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