At a gathering of coworkers, I was inspired to ponder the philosophy of the hanky. OK, so maybe "philosophy" is a strong word.
We were enjoying a plethora of potluck goodies and conversation when, I have no clue how, conversation turned to the discussion of hanky use. Most of those present bemoaned what they considered the disgustingness of the handkerchief.
I thought in silence for a moment, patted my pockets and produced a white cotton hanky of my own. I held it up without a word, with a grin on my face, waiting for someone to notice. First to see the hanky and burst out in laughter was Becca from the office, and it was a while before anyone else looked my way. When they did, their laughter changed from their shared disgust in the hanky, to surprise that I actually carried one.
I thought it was funny, too, but I have to admit that I don’t really understand the social dislike for the humble Swiss army hanky.
The standard cotton hanky is the answer to many common questions of the day. Sweaty forehead? HANKY! Need a potholder? HANKY! Severed artery in need of a tourniquette? HANKY! Son or daughter needs to play a good old game of cowboy cops and robbers? HANKY!
But, of course, the disgust comes from what is assumed to be the hanky’s primary use, especially in the cold season, as a nose trumpet. Even then, does it really deserve the ire of our society?
The concerns are well known. How could you reuse something you have wiped your nose with? How could you put it back in your pocket after you have used it?
But let me ask you, when you are out and about with a runny nose, unable to reach a bathroom or a napkin dispenser, and one of those mini Kleenex packages comes up dry, is it better to use your sleeve, glove or handkerchief?
Even if you do have a Kleenex on hand, if you have nowhere to dispose of it, would you then become a litter bug or would you grudgingly pocket it away?
Handkerchiefs are not meant to be used after they have wiped your brow or your nose until they have been washed. Like your underwear or bath towel, a hanky can be washed and sanitized. The mattress you sleep on at night is inherently more disgusting than a hanky fresh from the wash any day.
I can’t help but remember my flight to China so long ago now. My sinuses refused to clear after my second transfer flight and the pressure in my skull was making my eyes pop and my brain leak out of my nose (not really, but it felt like it).
After going through a travel pack of tissues, a stack of dinner napkins and a bundle of tissues from the airport bathroom, the grumpy, non-English speaker blocking me in my seat next to the window fell asleep, and I had nothing left to keep my brains from leaking onto the airplane floor save the clothes on my back and a little white hanky in my pocket.
The Chinese also find hankies disgusting, so when the man sitting next to me woke up, he gave me looks dirtier than my hanky. He was lucky not to wake up with me wiping my nose on his sleeves at that point.
So, if you think handkerchiefs are disgusting, remember that there are worse things in life, like the sleeves of a 5-year-old with a head cold. That’s why I’m careful about shaking hands with anyone under age 10 at church.