Etiquette evolves alongside pandemic
Millions are out of work and out of school, while everyone is asked to avoid each other
Even the most cautious can be forced into public spaces, for work, supplies, or the relief of a four-legged companion. But, during this pandemic, just seeing another person can feel uncomfortable or even perilous.
"We see a friend at the grocery store, and we go in and we say ‘hi, it’s so good to see you'," said Lizzie Post as she moved toward the lens of her web-cam, only to mimic a realization and back away. "I’m going to keep the distance’"
For Post – great great granddaughter of Emily – etiquette is the family business. In a recent video call interview, she said what’s considered rude or polite is evolving with the coronavirus crisis.
She noted that most people are accustomed to being about 18 inches apart when they talk to each other. Public health guidelines call for six feet, and Post said everyone out in public seems to have a different idea of just how much space to give each other.
"Everyone wants to be on the same page, and we just aren’t," she said, "we’re going to learn a lot more about boundaries than we ever have before."
Post said it’s perfectly acceptable to politely ask for your space in public, but suggests not shaming those who fail to follow the letter of guidelines.
If you’re wearing a mask – she said good communication will require better eye contact and attention to tone.
Most new social norms are likely temporary, while others may outlast the crisis.
"I believe the handshake, and the hug, and the high-five, and the fist bump are all going to come back," she said, "I think you’re going to see that cough into the hand really go away [replaced by a coughing into the elbow], but as for other things, I’m not really sure."
If you know someone who’s struggling with the loss of a loved one, or just loneliness, Post strongly advises reaching out. She said, phone or video chats can't fully-replace a hug, but may be the best options. Mail, email, and texts are good alternatives if you’re worried about intruding during a tough time.
Etiquette adaptations aren’t limited to the public sphere. Remote working and learning pose new challenges in the digital workplace and in the home.
Post said it's essential to establish expectations. "What is going to be your way of communicating how you’re getting your work done and when you are and are not available."
She said that’s true for finding compromise with co-workers and housemates.
Post said limiting distractions is more important for remote business meetings than for personal chats, but won’t always be possible with outside noises, kids, or pets.
Our interview went largely interrupted despite the presence of a near-by dog on both sides of the line.
Ultimately, Post advises on to remember the golden rules and magic words. If you treat those around you with compassion and respect, and mind your please and thank yous, we’ll all be a little less stressed.