Don’t Stand So Close to Me: Coronavirus Etiquette

August 30, 2020
InVision News

For the first time in a century, the entire human race must re-learn the art of interaction. That is to say, our current world—and how we navigate it—is new. What do you do if someone in a grocery store walks close to you without a mask? How do you eat in a socially distanced public setting if taking your mask off could infect the entire gathering? If you’ve felt that your blood has been boiling since late spring, how do you simmer down?

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Earlier in August, NPR writer Malaka Gharib published what she considers a “pocket guide to 2020 manners, AKA, a Coronavirus Etiquette Guide”. The article summarizes innovative, extensive research into how we have socially adapted to a world where we cannot just smile at one another to say hello. Gharib’s article narrows the points of this research down into small paragraphs and take-away ideas. It’s a guide clearly designed for quick reading during painful moments at gas stations or college orientations when it’s likely that multiple people have complaints about the same individual’s wrongdoings.

As states reopen in various phases and often shut down again soon afterward, politicians and regular citizens alike focus more on economy and public education than they do the actual process of readjustment to normal life. Of course, what we call “normal” cannot return until the national curve is flat, or several million United States citizens are vaccinated. Still, Americans have felt cooped up in their homes for nearly six months. Restaurants reopen, and we flock to them like geese to ponds. Universities announce their move-in plans, and students load into their cars. These sights are filled with colorful masks and glove compartments full of Clorox wipes. How do we navigate this new world where so much can go wrong, and navigate it politely?

Gharib makes several intelligent points which, out of all COVID articles, few seem to make. Magnificently, she forces us to realize that—though preventing only yourself from getting sick feels like the main idea of quarantining in your own space—the goal is to protect each other. Showing mutual consideration, as she puts it, is the best way to successfully tell a mask-less person in your bubble to follow the rules. This adds less awkwardness to the situation, but also drives away from turning the discussion into a political battle.

close-up of multiple colorful face masks with ear loops stacked on a wooden surface
Learn more about masks and face coverings and how they work to protect us all from infection.

More so than how to directly, yet politely, chastise people who make you uncomfortable is simply let go of the agitation. During a summer when each week seems to throw more bad news at the television screen, Gharib encourages us to do something that few “self-care” advocates insist on: letting it go. Self-care advocates love to stress this simple action, but the phrase has taken on new meaning for moments when letting it go could mean avoiding unnecessary awkwardness or sparing friendships.

Not everyone is handling the coronavirus pandemic the same. Although this is heartbreaking to both those staying home and those going to the bar on the weekends, it’s true. Allowing oneself to be perpetually agitated by the choices of those around you may feel like the healthy, patriotic thing to do, but it does the opposite.

You cannot assume the stance of every person you invite for a drink on your patio. It is in your right to request a dinner guest or Walmart worker to follow the rules when you find yourself uncomfortable by their choice but losing relationships over the matter is the opposite of success.

Learning manners and etiquette seems like something most would fully grasp by high school, so it makes sense to find the “adult world” hard to traverse when socializing feels in poor taste. Yet, it is difficult terrain we must cross. If we cross it together, the journey will become far less burdensome.

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