Maintaining Your Manners in the Time of Coronavirus
By Martha Michael
“Etiquette is the science of living,” said Emily Post, author and manners expert of the last century. “It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.”
You may not hold manners in such high esteem, but most Americans routinely cooperate with norms that are based on the consideration of others. A lot has changed since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, and while there is daily coverage of its effects on our health and the economy, it is also affecting social behavior.
Most segments of society have done away with greetings -- from handshakes to hugs -- at least temporarily. But there are questions about what should replace those practices and where we should go from here. Vulcan greeting, anyone?
Continuing the work of its founder to bring awareness to appropriate social behavior, The Emily Post Institute adapts similar standards to modern circumstances to advise the public about best practices for healthy interaction during the coronavirus pandemic. The organization’s website even weighs in on life during the time of COVID-19.
It is safest to simply refrain from touching, says EmilyPost.com. There are exceptions but embracing only family members is the recommended rule. Instead, choose bowing, waving, or placing your hands in prayer position. Adding eye contact and facial expressions are good ways to enhance the sentiment of your message.
What do you do when someone holds out a hand for a traditional handshake? The Institute gives you permission to refuse and explain that you’re keeping your distance. You can add a friendly comment such as “I’m happy to see you,” if you want to reduce the chance of hurting the feelings of the other party.
Because habits take time, everyone needs an added measure of patience as there will be an awkward period of adjustment while various members of society learn new trends.
Communication is the key to clear messaging about social distancing. Both your words and tone are factors in reminding people to maintain a healthy distance. Your body language may betray your true feelings, as social distancing can appear unfriendly, so your words need to be packed with meaning.
If you’re in public and someone is too close to you, Emily Post suggests you smile as you distance yourself six feet away per the recommendation of health experts. Whether you’re at the market or in the park, you can use gentle reminders to others by making comments such as, “Pardon me while I try to keep six feet away.”
Think of it as a gift of necessary space. While crossing the street when a stranger approaches might normally be seen as an insult, now it’s simply an act to keep both of you safer.
The New Normal
Canadian publication The Globe and Mail has an article describing some of the social changes we’ve made due to the pandemic. For instance, grocery shoppers who used to pick up and squeeze produce are handling fruit and vegetables with a thumb and forefinger -- sometimes with gloved hands.
“Habits, like spitting and littering, that seemed mildly repugnant in the past, are now off the dial on the unacceptable scale,” the article says. “For a long time to come we’ll all be wearing masks to shop and take transit. What once seemed to many a foreign conceit will soon be regarded as imminently polite behavior for people living in cities. Just as we might scoff at some of Miss Manners’ outdated advice, so too will we shake our heads at the unhygienic habits we are learning to part with today.”
For many of us, wearing masks in everyday life has seemed like something that took place halfway around the globe. But health authorities are encouraging Americans to do the same; in fact, admonishing those who don’t.
“In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, along with evidence of widespread COVID-19 illness in communities across the country, CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting,” the Centers for Disease Control website says. “A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others.”
Instead of Emily Post or Miss Manners, the CDC is really giving us “street rules”; even though you may not be required to wear a mask in your state, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t wear one when you’re crossing paths with others, such as at the grocery store. Although there is no evidence that wearing a mask will prevent your being infected -- and making you a carrier without your knowledge -- the mask will help reduce the chances of passing along the virus. In other words, you don’t want to catch the virus while getting your morning coffee and infect someone else while shopping in the afternoon. Street rules: Wear a mask.
While we’re getting used to new practices in the time of COVID-19, there are also etiquette norms we can ignore, at least for the time being, says an article in Reader’s Digest. Most people give others a sizable leeway in setting boundaries that lower their risk of illness.
Now that we are more educated about the spread of COVID-19 we are less likely to practice some of the following habits and attitudes:
- Sharing Food
- Clinking glasses for a toast
- Eschewing an RSVP withdrawal
- Holding babies and children
- Offering to carry groceries for someone
Americans in the past may have turned to Emily Post for such advice as hosting a party rather than more weighty matters such as healthy interaction. But she had a way with words that can sometimes be applied to matters across generations.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others,” she said. “If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
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