January 17th, 2021

Etiquette during COVID crisis

By Submitted Article on April 7, 2020.

Pandemic shows how social norms can evolve

As I pulled up to the grocery store to pick up supplies for my family, a long lineup outside the store greeted me. I sat in my car for a while contemplating if I really needed to go in.

My new reality hit home, with the realization that my shopping trips for essentials have to be seldom now. In scanning the parking lot, I noticed how few of us were out, picking up what we needed for our families. After what felt like an eternity in my vehicle and noticing that the lineup had died down, I braced myself for the unexpected.

The store manager and security at the door advised me that I could go in because they hadn’t reached the maximum number of shoppers allowed in at any given time. As I walked in, I became fully aware of the instructions that were posted all over the store. I adhered to every single one of them, thankful that the store was open to accommodate my needs.

Glancing over to the other shoppers, it was interesting to observe that everyone seemed to be compliant. As I headed to the cashier, I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We always give each other hugs, yet this time we kept our distance. We chatted briefly and moved on without any physical contact. Although our decision to stay metres apart would have been questionable just a few weeks prior, it made complete sense in this instance as we shared an understanding of the state of the world and wanted to play our part in improving the situation.

This is the essence of etiquette. Specific practices that are widely accepted at one point in time may become unacceptable in another. Just as the social norms of etiquette differ between cultures and languages, they also evolve with each passing era. However, the essential pillars of etiquette, including the selfless consideration of others’ needs, remain the same.

Today, the grocery stores offer many opportunities to participate in this evolution in a practical way. One of these ways is by paying strict observation to one’s shopping habits. As key commodities are in short supply, our new social norm is to think of the needy and vulnerable when picking up goods on our grocery list, and leaving some for them. When the run for toilet paper first started, my heart sank for a senior who was out for her weekly grocery shopping when she found the shelves bare. Her taking photos of empty shelves struck me, so I initiated a conversation with her. She told me she lives by herself and does her shopping weekly. What she was most concerned about was where to find some toilet paper.

I wondered to myself if the people who were hoarding toilet paper understood the negative impact their actions had on our seniors and other vulnerable people. If we all took what we needed, there would be enough even for the senior who can’t make it to the store early in the morning. As uncertainty mounts and anxieties run high, it is our individual responsibility to help maintain a relative sense of calm in society the best we can.

Finally, and most importantly, being considerate of others includes protecting those with whom we share our homes. In accordance with the advice to self-isolate after having returned from a trip outside of Canada, my friend’s husband who recently returned home from the U.S on a business trip let himself into the house through the garage door and self-isolated in the basement of their home. Although this was tough for my friend, her husband and their children, it was more important to ensure everyone would stay safe and in good health. There were no embraces or shared meals with the whole family during this period, but self-isolation proved a small price to pay to guarantee the welfare of his family and work colleagues.

The COVID-19 virus came as a shocker to the world, and the measures we need to take to slow it down may seem rather inconvenient to many of us. However, if we all play our part in thwarting its spread, it will make a difference. We can embrace our new social norms to do this and in the process work towards rebuilding a society united in showing consideration for each other.

Mable Stewart is a Lethbridge-based etiquette and image consultant. She can be contacted by email at helpfuletiquette@gmail.com.

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