He sat on the tube train to work, SNIFF reading his paper, SNIFF, flicking through the pages, SNIFF, barely noticing the grimaces from the fellow, SNIFF, passengers as he punctuated the journey with SNIFF a continuous metronome of SNIFFS along the route.

Every 30 seconds or so, a giant loud SNIFF.

Yet he seemed totally oblivious to the regular physical spasms that shuddered through his body as each giant inhalation took place.

Other passengers glanced at each other as the silent waves of disgust were communicated by the English rolling of eyes, and just occasionally, a tut.

updated_flu_posterAnd yet, I began to wonder.

Why do I find his behaviour so reprehensible? Is it the noise? Some deep seated phobia about disease? That he is breaking English codes-of-behaviour? What is it about sniffing so loudly that causes the onlookers to express disgust, and yet is seemingly of no concern to the person sniffing?

I sniffle a lot — colds in the winter, hayfever in the summer. My nose is a perpetual dripping tap so I always carry tissues with me.

Tissues, not handkerchiefs. Not anymore after a bad couple of years of hayfevers resulted in handkerchiefs returning home wetter than a girl at a boyband concert. Since then, disposable tissues.

Even then, I get caught out at times — one memorable moment recently when in position for a rare photoshoot opportunity being struck with a bout of hayfever so dire that having used up every paper based product I could find even started pondering if I could take off my socks and use them.

So, yes, I sniffle. I sniffle in an English manner — polite, embarrassed, refined sniffing that hopefully no one will notice.

But it’s just a normal bodily function. So why the sniffy attitude to sniffing.


Is it a Victorian prudishness that such things simply shouldn’t be seen, or heard in public? Is it a hygiene phobia reinforced by repeated warnings about spreading the flu in public?

Or is it simply a sound that sets teeth on edge? I suspect the later.

Personally, I continue to quietly glare at the sniffer.


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.


This website has been running now for just over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, but doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether its a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what your read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

  1. It happens. Sometimes you need to sniff. And in some respects, sniffing is the least worst option. For blowing your nose opens up other floodgates. Some people think that blowing is always preferable. But if you have a stinking cold or horrendous hayfever, blowing could be like turning the taps on.

    It is annoying sound. But ultimately it’s a design issue with the human body.

  2. BillyBoy says:

    Wow!! I thought I was the only one who hated the sound of sniffers. On many occasions I would get off and go to another carriage.

  3. Andrew says:

    In Japan, sniffing is entirely acceptable – it keeps the bodily fluids to yourself. Sneezing is abhorrent. Many people wear face masks to prevent infections being passed on to others; some just wear them prophylactically, to avoid catching anything.

  4. Barry says:

    It could be worse, he could blow his nose into a handkerchief and then inspect the contents in minute detail.

  5. LadyBracknell says:

    I once sat opposite someone who sniffed continuously. In the end I found a crumpled but clean paper handkerchief in my bag. When I offered it to this person they couldn’t understand why. I had to tell them about the sniffing.

    These days I dare not leave the house without a handkerchief as I have developed a serious allergy, which my doctor has yet to fathom, that leaves me with both a runny nose and streaming eyes. Lovely, not.

  6. Ed says:

    Perhaps carry a spare small unopened packet of tissues for others. Trouble with all these “health scares” is people tend to perhaps think the worst and that one is a “carrier” of flu or something worse, especially in a congested (forgive the pun) international city such as London. The other problem is this ideal that I can carry-on, keep calm and not worry about being ill thus continue going to work no matter what cause won’t get paid if not go in or maybe my position will be “under review” if take time off sick. One only ha to look at the ads on television for meds that keep you going when really you need to take time-off rest and get well…

Home >> News >> Miscellaneous