I was introduced to someone who had just sneezed into his hand. He immediately stuck out that hand for a handshake. Gak. I pretended I didn’t see it and just greeted him politely. Was that okay?

Well, no. It really is rude to ignore a handshake, so shake you should have, but then it would be fine to excuse yourself and race off to apply hand sanitizer or wash up. If you are the sneezer, knowing how most everyone feels about the germ thing, say so. “I’m so happy to meet you and would love to shake hands, but I just sneezed into mine so will spare you the germs.”  And then practice what is commonly taught today, starting in preschool, and sneeze into the crook of your arm, not your hands.

I have a friend who always asks what I consider to be personal questions, like “how much did that cost,” and “how much do you weigh.” I don’t want to answer them, but don’t want to be rude. What do I say?

It is not rude to draw the line at providing information that you consider personal. Have a few answers at the ready that don’t imply that you find your friend boorish, but that protect your privacy. Say, “I don’t remember the price, Jane, sorry!” and ”I’m not sure exactly what I weigh, but whatever it is, my doctor says it’s fine.” Then have another topic of conversation to introduce immediately so your polite sidestepping isn’t followed by a long silence that leaves both you and your friend feeling uncomfortable.

Who is supposed to follow the person who shows you to your table in a restaurant?

If the diners are a man and a woman, the woman goes first. If two women, either may go first. If a group with a host, the hostess follows first. If a group with no host, whichever woman is closest goes first.

I just ran into someone I know slightly and offered big congratulations and asked her when she was due. Only problem, she’s not pregnant. I feel awful. What should I have said after that faux pas?

First, make this episode be about a couple of lessons learned. Primarily, never assume. Wait for the other person to tell you his or her news before commenting on what you think it will be. Second, do not, ever, comment on someone’s appearance. More times than not, when you tell another that he or she “looks great!” the message received is that you are saying that isn’t always the case. A quick response by you when you learned your acquaintance was not pregnant would have been to say, “oh, gosh, it’s just that you look so glowing and happy my first thought was that you were.” She probably won’t believe you and will go home and look in the mirror for proof that she looks pregnant, but at least you will have tried for a path out of a truly awkward moment.

Questions for Catherine? Send them to catherine.michaels33@gmail.com