Here is a common scene: A lady is about to sneeze, and just before she does, a man reaches into his pocket and whips out a crisp, lily-white handkerchief. It is monogrammed, stamped with a family crest, or perhaps hand stitched with one of his favorite sayings, and he thus presents it to her, just before she has lit the fuse to her nose cannon. A gentlemen can do this very quickly, even though sneezes can travel at hundreds of miles per hour according to science. He performs this sacrifice not because he desires to have a stranger soil his perfectly creased handkerchief, or because he is a fan of flashy gestures involving fabric (except for sleight-of-hand magic tricks of course), but to offer the lady, in this brief instant of panic, a safe place. He has constructed a secure landing pad for her flying sneezy bits.
Having finished her business, the lady will usually thank the man, and then enter the next stage: the confusing, post-sneeze time where one wonders about Handkerchief-Return policy. Now, a lady’s sneeze, properly folded into the handkerchief, can be handed back to the man, whereafter he will place it in his back pocket and immediately put it in the laundry upon returning home. He will not consider using it himself, nor will he offer it to another sneeze victim. If the lady holds up the newly moistened vessel with thumb and index finger, “stinky diaper” style, then the man is well within his right to smile and offer that she keep it. Handkerchiefs are not that expensive, and this small loss provides the man with the opportunity to try out a different set of stitched-on sayings, with differently colored text on his next handkerchief shopping excursion. Additionally, the lady now possesses something of the gentleman’s, and she may want to try to return it to him at a later date. The gentlemen has already considered this last option before even unsheathing it in the first place.
Handkerchiefs Among Friends:
When your friend sneezes, he is on his own. Just as one need not offer to hold a friend’s urinating instrument while he excretes his waste liquids, a gentleman is expected to take care of certain things himself. Either he will have his own handkerchief to deftly draw when the sneeze itch comes, or else he will not, and he’ll deposit it in the crook of the elbow, as is the current fashion, or perhaps do something funny, like spray it all over the inside of a car window. Either way, it is his choice. Handkerchiefs between friends, especially male ones, are shared mainly in emergency situations. Spills are the most common, and a potentially embarrassing stain can be quickly mopped up with a friend’s handy clothpiece. Non-sneezing bodily fluid mishaps are the next most common, and those are, of course, “Keep it” situations. Rarely–but it has been known to happen–the gentlemen gives his man friend a handkerchief for an emotional emergency involving tears. Offering a friend your handkerchief signals that he is not alone in his crisis and that you are there for him. Also understood is that by giving him this handkerchief, you are absolved of any possibly awkward comforting-through-words duties. The handkerchief has taken over that job, and it will do the talking.
For any of the above situations involving someone whom the gentleman is not that familiar with, a male acquaintance, a coworker, etc., the gentlemen quickly goes through a series of tests. First, assess your friendship level. Does he even know that you are carrying a handkerchief? Probably not. Might as well keep it that way for now. Next, assess the possible receiver’s cleanliness level. What kind of sneezer is he? A dainty misting type? Or is he in the midst of a full-blown illness? Will the force of his face exploding onto the handkerchief damage the fabric? Will what you see him do to the handkerchief leave you with lasting low-level psychological trauma? Lastly, is this person worth impressing? Like a business card, a gentleman’s handkerchief should be a reflection of the man himself, perfected, and can be an effective networking tool when used in certain situations. Having the right person defile your handkerchief can lead to upward mobility in many fields.
A handkerchief is a gentleman’s multi-tool, made of fabric. It is first-aid for a variety of embarrassing situations: it can heal in both the physical and emotional realms, it is quite absorptive, it’s easy to clean, and it dries quickly when spread out and hung up. Most importantly, it can be personalized to the heart’s content. The knowledge that one’s handkerchief lies ready to commit good deeds of sanitation at any given moment will give a gentleman confidence throughout his day.