Compliance with social distancing requirements has become a way of living in recent months. The ‘new reality’ has come with new rules of behaviour which have changed the way everyone in the world communicates and does business. Because of Covid-19, countless instructions have emerged on how we should cough, sneeze and wash hands, together with advice to observe mandatory safe distances and pristine hygiene. In a very short time, behaviours and reactions which have become our instincts since early childhood ended up being unacceptable and dangerous.
What changes have become a norm in our daily life and what does etiquette command in the context of our new reality? Here is some advice from experts:
Salutation and handshaking
Healthy individuals without Covid-19 symptoms are free to go out, work, do sports and stroll around. This inevitably involves meetings, so we have to be vigilant on how we interact with other people. Until the pandemic is put under full control.
Hugs and handshakes are regarded as unacceptable
The most important recommendation from experts is to minimize our physical contact with the people around. Cheek kissing, handshaking and hugging are now considered the least healthy ways of salutation due to the potential transmission of dangerous bacteria and viruses. Instead, we are advised to salute by Namaste bow, elbow touching or hand waving from a safe distance accompanied with a radiant smile.
Taking your shoes off
In many cultures, guests are expected to take their shoes off before they enter the host’s house. The Covid-19 situation has naturally changed the geography of this custom. Now it is fully acceptable to ask visitors to take off their shoes at the doorstep and put on disposable sleepers or shoe covers before they come in.
Wearing a mask
As the pandemic situation evolved, research has shown that some people can be virus-positive, but still not exhibit flu-like symptoms. Accordingly,
masks have become recommendable and should be worn by anyone leaving their home so as to prevent the spread of the virus.
In addition to being useless, wearing a mask on the chin, neck, elbow or wrist is aesthetically inappropriate. Essentially, the mask has become the handkerchief of our century. To stay compliant with etiquette while wearing this new ‘accessory’, experts recommend that we keep them pristine and avoid putting them on a table or hanging them on the arms or ears when we eat. If you happen to sneeze in your mask during a conversation, apologize, go out and change the mask, and then wash your hands.
Invitations: RSVP from Yes to No
According to a long-time tradition, once you accept an invitation for an event, etiquette commands you to go there by all means. Nevertheless, in the coronavirus situation, changing your reply and missing an event is considered acceptable as long as you do it in good time. To this end, you may wish to send a message to the host explaining that you greatly regret missing the event, but did so for the sake of everybody’s safety.
Two meters apart
Healthcare experts believe that now everything hinges of social distancing because this is the only way to abate the spread of the disease. Before the pandemic, in certain societies and cultures asking someone to stay away or respect your personal space would have been an offense. Today however everyone is expected to respect this and if you are not ready to observe a safe distance, for sure somebody else will.
It is important to ensure than social distancing happens without offending people:
‘I believe there should be some more distance between us’
is a polite way to remind someone of the social distancing routines without inducing embarrassment or anger.
Contactless payments and gratuities
Businesses, restaurants and shops all over the world increasingly prefer contactless payments as a safer method than exchanging banknotes or coins. The objective is to keep everyone in the chain healthy — clients, personnel and staff at outlets/institutions. The bon ton requires you to offer a tip for good service together with your payment. If you cannot do it in advance, you may wish to leave some money in a clean envelope together with a brief message of appreciation: ‘Thank you! I appreciate your work’.
Offering help to carry packages or bags with purchased goods
While in the past it was perfectly natural to offer help to a neighbour who is struggling with heavy packages or bags full of purchased items, the situation today is different. It turned out that the virus can survive on surfaces, so unless we are wearing gloves and a mask, we should very carefully think before we offer to help others carry their belongings or purchases. Ultimately, this also affects their own safety.
Sharing food and raising a toast
Most people around the world would not be happy to chop off their piece of a desert placed in the middle of the table, even if it is shared with friends, each one armed with an individual fork. But, in certain countries and cultures, food sharing is part of people’s daily life. The situation around Covid-19 has made observance of hygiene rules a global issue and has inevitably changed our habits and daily routines. Food is to be consumed from individual plates and sharing should be refused for the sake of hygiene. Etiquette commands that everyone should use individual plates and cutlery.
Jingling the glasses is not the most reasonable way to raise a toast today. During and even after Covid-19
etiquette commands that glasses should be apart when raised for Cheers so that the required distance and hygiene is observed.
Live or virtual
Before Covid-19, personal contacts were a must for maintaining important business relations. Face-to-face meetings were the basis for building trust, they were expressions of respect, commitment and a good attitude, and were perceived as an important precondition for developing long-term partnerships. Today however safety has become everyone’s priority. Many alternatives to personal meetings have become available so that communications now occur online or by telephone.
Thus, refusing a personal meeting is not a breach of bon ton,
because the new ways of interacting and doing business have become generally accepted methods of communication which ensure everyone’s safety.