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The coronavirus pandemic and the changes it has brought to our lives, from the way we work to the way we socialize to the way we shop, is ongoing. And that means that the ways in which we interact with the world have changed as well. Here are some new rules of etiquette to be aware of, from the way you should handle social media to where to put your face mask when dining out. To find out how to properly navigate the world right now, we spoke with two etiquette experts, Jodi Smith, of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, and Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette and culture expert.
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People’s comfort levels will naturally vary at this point in the coronavirus pandemic. Some people are OK with going to malls and indoor dining, while other people are still staying home the majority of the time. You can’t control others’ behaviors, but you can control your own, and that also means you should be consistent with what you do in real life and what you do on social media. “Do what’s right for you and your people, but make sure you’re not fibbing, because social media will out you,” Jodi Smith said. “If I tell my grandmother I’m not going anywhere but then my cousin sees a picture of me at a little league game and then I go visit grandma right afterwards, that will be a huge problem. You just gotta be honest.”
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Sometimes the news happens faster than we can process it, but Schweitzer recommends stopping the spread of misinformation by researching what you're posting. Is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, local government or a reputable news source sharing this information?
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Life goes on, but as the pandemic rages on, it’s important to showcase sympathy and empathy in your Facebook posts. It’s also important to consider the types of things you’re posting. A joke about teachers, for instance, may come across as particularly distasteful while schools reopen amid the pandemic.
If you know someone who doesn’t see the world the same way you do, chances are you’re not going to change their mind online. According to Smith, it’s up to you whether or not you want to comment on a political post you don’t agree with, just know what you’re getting into. “If you’re feeling strong and you want to engage in a political debate on Facebook, that certainly is your prerogative,” she said. “But you should know in doing so it’s very rare to change somebody’s mind in person let alone via Facebook post — so where does that leave you?”
To that end, Smith also recommends reaching out to people close to you if you see them posting something inaccurate or if you want to have a chat about their beliefs. For instance, if you see a close friend post a joke online that they seem to be taking seriously, send them a note on Facebook Messenger privately letting them know their error, but be lighthearted and respectful about it.
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“[How you should check in with loved ones] depends on your family systems and cultures and your relationships with your friends. It depends how you interact with people,” Schweitzer said. “You may be used to sending a DM, sending a text, IMing. Whatever system you use with your family, that’s the system that people are comfortable with. You may also have the urge to call if there’s someone you haven’t heard from in a bit.”
Remember getting mail via the USPS? It may be time to bring back old-school handwritten communication for those nearest and dearest to you. After all, it’s nice to get mail. “A friend sent me a handwritten notecard in the mail, it said I was thinking about you and wanted to check in and let me know if you want to schedule a time to talk,” Smith said. “It was nice to get something in the mail that wasn’t a bill or bad news.”
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Running into a neighbor at the grocery store used to be a common occurrence filled with small talk. But today, it’s all about a big ol’ wave. “I do a lot of big body gestures. I’ll square my shoulders toward them, do an animated wave, and I usually include an introduction in my wave because we’re wearing masks — it can be really hard to tell who someone is at the store because they’re out of context,” Smith said. That’s a sentiment Schweitzer echoed. “We’ll do a body hug where you hug yourself and point. If they want to talk to me, they may do the phone signal like I’m going to call you. I’ll do non-verbal communication,” she said.
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Some people choose to greet via fist bump or elbow bump, but that may not be the wisest choice if you’re practicing social distancing. “If you’re close enough for an elbow bump, you’re within 3 feet, which is about half the distance [recommended by the CDC],” Smith said. “I know as human beings, touch is really important. Hug the people you’re living with, cuddle with your dog, but you want to avoid touching other people’s bodies.”
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If someone tries to go in for a full-contact greeting and you’re not comfortable with it, make it known that you’re looking out for their health too, not just yours. “Avoid lecturing about pandemic precautions or using an abrasive tone as other people may not be as willing to comply,” Schweitzer said. “If you ask in a kind manner, people are likely to do as you ask. Most of the time, people are respectful of others.”
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If you love petting other people’s pups, maybe consider adopting your own or waiting until there’s a vaccine. The CDC recommends keeping pets away from people not in your household. And if someone wants to snuggle your dog? “If you’re approaching someone else with your dog and you see them wave, walk in another direction. If they keep coming and are coming at you, just say, ‘Right now, we’re not letting them interact. Next time I see you around the neighborhood, we can have a playdate,’” Schweitzer said. “Keep it on a positive, warm, kind note.”
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With the holiday season around the corner, knowing how to navigate an invitation to a Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa celebration could feel tricky. According to Smith, that’s where preemptive etiquette, or setting expectations, comes into play. “If I’m a guest at somebody else’s house, I’ll ask how many people are going to be there and what time they plan to serve the meal. I’ll say my family will only be able to come over for about an hour, tell us what hour works best — do you want us there for cocktails, the meal or dessert? Let the host feel like they have a say in the decision-making process,” she said.
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If you’re at an outdoor, socially distanced party and after a few glasses of wine, people start taking off masks and stepping in your bubble, don’t just take it. Schweitzer recommends first talking to the host if you're comfortable doing so. She recommends saying something along the lines of, "I know that you would want to know that people are enjoying your party so much that they are a little lax with safety." If the host reigns people in, great. If not, just leave without comment after thanking the host for a lovely evening.
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“Avoid making assumptions about how friends are responding to pandemic guidelines," Schweitzer said. "Ask a few questions in advance." Feel free to inquire about precautions your friend has taken, if they're OK with socially distanced hangouts or wearing masks. If your friends aren't OK with your suggestions, plan an in-person get-together when there is a vaccine.
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If a friend asks you to go to a bar but you’re not comfortable drinking in an indoor space, don’t be afraid to focus on the goal of this meetup, seeing your friends, and offering to do something else instead. “I’m a big fan now of the counter-offer. What if we go to one of our favorite venues and get takeout, go to the park around the corner, I’ll bring a blanket and we’ll sit outside and eat at the park,” Smith said. “Have a counter-proposal. Think: what is the purpose of this event? Don’t be afraid to counter-propose to reach that goal but change the way you achieve that goal.”
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If you’re at the pharmacy or on the bus and someone is wearing their face mask as a chin strap, think before you say something. “If their behavior is not affecting you directly, let it go. People end up in conflict and kerfuffle because they think they can cajole others to comply with pandemic guidelines. Stay away,” Schweitzer said. If you can, alter your own behaviors to avoid this person by stepping away or changing seats.
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Now that restaurants are reopened across America for indoor and outdoor dining, one of the biggest questions of etiquette is: Where do you keep your face mask? Putting any item on the table is a breach of etiquette, and that doubles for a face mask, which has germs on it. “I like to fold it up and put it in my pocket. That way it’s not falling on the floor,” Smith said. “If I don’t have a pocket, I can put it in my bag, purse or backpack. You don’t want to wear it as a neck strap because there’s a chance food will get on or in it. You don’t want to wear it on your wrist because there’s a chance it’ll get dragged through food.”
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The guidelines for tipping have totally changed during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re going out to eat, heading to the cafe to grab a latte to go or even just getting a bagel around the corner, be prepared to tip very well. “I want you to tip to the point of pain. [Servers] are really putting themselves in harm’s way for our enjoyment. You want to tip as much as you can,” Smith said. “Tipping guidelines are going by the wayside. I am tipping on things I normally wouldn’t tip on. Someone handing me a bagel, not even a bagel sandwich, I wouldn’t normally tip on that. Now, I tip almost as much as the bagel costs. These people are working hard just to make our lives a little bit easier during this crazy time.” Schweitzer advises that "25 to 30% is the new 15 to 20%" for servers during sit-down meals. For baristas, she recommends tipping at least $1 per drink, tipping bartenders 20% or more and tipping your takeout or curbside pickup staff 15% to 20%. Curious who else to tip? Here’s a guide.
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Whether you live in a high-rise apartment building or have returned to the office, entering an elevator during COVID-19 can be a little awkward. Schweitzer recommends taking the stairs if you can. Only going up to the third floor? Hoof it. If you want or need to take the elevator, remember your patience. Keep things to one party per trip, and let those who have been waiting the longest get on first. If you find yourself in the elevator with another party, face forward or away from others and move to the corners. Avoid touching surfaces and press buttons with your elbow if you can. And once you master the elevator, these other coronavirus etiquette rules will be a breeze.
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