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Social Interactions Can Be Super Awkward Right Now. We've Got Etiquette Tips For Handling Them.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson bumps elbows with The Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sánchez at the NATO Summit held at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels in June of 2021.
Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson bumps elbows with The Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sánchez at the NATO Summit held at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels in June of 2021.

From Texas Standard:

If Fourth of July travel numbers are any indication, the holiday weekend may have marked the first time many Texans engaged in a new level of social interaction during this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It used to be easy: just say no to gatherings. Now, the messages from experts, the vaccination statuses, and the personal comfort levels are mixed. So how to navigate?

Lizzie Post is an author, a podcast host and the copresident of the Emily Post Institute – which has been offering etiquette advice for a century. She wrote in The Atlantic about rules for politeness. She told Texas Standard, it starts with being patient with and compassionate for others right now and that it’s not rude to set parameters and ask questions.

“You can actually ask someone if they've been vaccinated, they can always decline if they don't want to answer,” Post said. “But I think an easier route to go is, especially if you're in the hosting position, is to state what's going to work for you. What are the parameters of your party? Just like we've been doing for the past year and a half, when we have to say what we're comfortable with and what we're not.”

Post says even though it can feel intimidating to have these conversations, people should feel comforted in that it’s the right thing to do, “to keep everybody safe, to do what feels comfortable with everyone.”

She says having these conversations doesn’t need to involve providing an explanation beyond stating what you are and are not comfortable with.

“I think there's going to be a lot of people in the position of either being really excited that handshakes are back and I think other people in business are still going to be in that, ‘Oh, I'm sorry, I'm not doing handshakes yet,’” Post said.

She said if the latter is you, focus on still giving a good greeting.

“Say, ‘Oh, you know, I'm not doing handshakes yet, but it is such a pleasure to meet you’ or ‘I am so glad to be back with everybody.’ Use your words, use your tone of voice to convey the sentiment if you can't engage in a gesture,” Post said.

Post said she thinks there’s little chance that the handshake will be gone forever. She says the pandemic’s permanent changes to our etiquette may be rather minor.

“The type of stuff that sticks maybe isn't particular behaviors so much but an awareness of such an experience now,” Post said. “I mean, we've all really been through this together. I think we spend a lot of time talking about our comfort levels and how we view safety. And I'm really hoping that the spirit of keeping those conversations open and something we're comfortable having is something that carries through.”

She says other changes that may stick long-term could be the continued dedication to masks, social distancing, and fervent hand washing – especially during cold and flu season.

“I do think you'll have some folks who just decide that they really appreciated not getting sick at all last winter because they were wearing masks and washing hands a lot when they were entering public spaces,” Post said.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.