Covid and Social Etiquette

8. June 2020

“Happiness is when what you think, say and do are in harmony.” (Mahatma Gandhi)


At first glance, it may seem that in the age of home offices, limited gatherings and closed restaurants, dealing with social etiquette is somewhat unnecessary. After all, we eat “only” with our loved ones, we only have to get dressed when we have video conferences, parties are not happening, etc. But in fact, the opposite is true. On the one hand, we probably don’t need to wear business suits every day, but on the other, our mutual attitudes and behavior towards each other are much more important in the difficult situations we’ve been facing recently than in our regular, everyday lives. In that life, if something just doesn’t suit you, you can make an excuse and just leave. But when you are in quarantine with other people or you depend on someone else, whether you like it or not, you just have to get along with them. So how do you adapt to a new etiquette that, more than ever, rests on communication and interaction with each other, so that you get the best out of it, not only for yourself but also with others, bringing back harmony and limiting panic to a minimum in your daily life? Consider the following advice from etiquette experts.


Face Masks

One of the great ladies of etiquette recently wrote in an article that the face mask is becoming the handkerchief of this century. According to her, everyone should wear a face mask, just as, until recently, they wore a cloth handkerchief. This is because, according to medical studies, there are individuals who test positive for the virus even though they do not show any signs of the disease. These people, because they are not aware of the disease, are probably spreading it even more intensely. Face masks are therefore now recommended for all those who go around in public, to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible.


Let’s say you are invited to a visit, where a greater number of people are to meet, some of whom are even strangers to you.  You’re worried, because you don’t want to take unnecessary risks, and you just don’t feel completely up to it. But are you embarrassed and don’t know how to excuse yourself politely? Try this, for example: “Our whole family prefers to stay at home for now. We’re taking this whole situation seriously and we still prefer not to meet with larger groups of people. We are very sorry, but when everything is over, we will be happy to visit you.” Up until recently it was considered a major social transgression to change a “yes” RSVP to a “no”. Once you responded positively to an invitation to attend an event, it was expected you would attend. Today, however, due to the coronavirus, everything is different. Send a message to the host stating your sincere apologies, saying you are convinced it will be the safest for everyone.

Shaking Hands

Global greetings have been evolving for years. Even prior to coronavirus, both handshaking and a hug or kiss were considered unhygienic, yet they were still very popular. But for some people, traditions are simply traditions. So, if you now meet someone who holds out their hand, just smile and use one of the safer alternatives to shaking hands instead, and that is the Indian bow, saying “Namaste”, with hands clasped on the chest. Either way, no one should feel offended today if you don’t shake their hands. If a handshake is truly unavoidable, at least immediately wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds!

Greeting Kiss

A kiss on the cheek has been a part of the common greeting for many nations for many years, and let’s admit that it has taken root a bit recently in our country as well. It will probably be difficult for many of you to just forget about it with the snapping of your fingers and to immediately stop using it. So, try for starters holding yourself back from immediately rushing forward to the person you want to greet, and instead, politely asking if he or she would mind if you kissed.


For many years people did not clink wineglasses during a toast, so it is no great sin to stop doing it now. Usually, people just clink glasses with the guests to their left and right, and now it will better not to do even that. A simple raising of the glass is considered sufficiently formal.

Take off your shoes

While in some countries in Asia it is quite common to take off your shoes before entering the house, in our latitudes, however, until recently it was considered inappropriate to make your guests take their shoes off and put on house shoes. However, thanks to the virus, slippers are experiencing a comeback. Today, you can shamelessly ask your visitor to take off their shoes and offer them slippers – ideally, disposable ones. If you find it daunting, and I fully understand, you can do it this way: “Thank you for coming. For hygienic reasons, we now take off our shoes outside and do not wear them inside. Can you please use these disposable slippers instead of shoes? Thank you for being understanding.” Keep house shoes available for guests right where they take off their outdoor shoes so that they can slip into them comfortably.

Walking the dog

Nothing, of course, will stop us from walking our pets, not even a virus. They, like us, love company, and it is no wonder that they too are tired of having their walks restricted. So, if you want to keep the possibility of infection to a minimum and you see a certain risk in walking them, then you need to go out at non-peak times, when the probability that you will meet someone, let alone someone you know, who will also pounce on your pet to stroke or scratch them behind the ears, is much smaller. Another solution is to walk your pet in places where the pedestrian traffic is low. If, despite this, you still run into someone who is “brave”, who does not consider touching your pet to be risky and regardless of safety measures, throws themselves headlong at them, then politely stop them: “Jerry and I currently respect social distancing. But we’re looking forward to seeing you when all this is over.”

Distance and Comfort Zone

Whether you meet someone you know while walking your dog or on the way to work, and you want to avoid closer contact, say hello from a distance and start a conversation at a certain distance: “Hi, it’s great to see you. I hope everyone is doing well?”. This will make it clear that you do not plan to get any closer. Likewise, if someone violates your comfort zone in these times, you can ask them to step back and respect your personal space, which would have been a bit of a faux pas before Covid.


How to give someone a tip today, while avoiding personal contact and contact with cash? Many companies where even today it was still not customary to leave a tip when paying by credit card, have introduced this option. So, you can do so when you pay for your goods with a card. For those establishments that do not offer this option, you can put the tip in a clean envelope, write a thank you note and pass it on in person by both touching only the envelope, not each other. Of course, only consider tipping if your personal financial situation still allows it.

Offering Help

In the past, were you used to helping neighbors, the elderly at the store, or helping friends carry purchases, heavy packages, or bulky items? Since the virus can live on surfaces, if you are not wearing gloves and a face mask, carefully consider whether you can help.

Conference call instead of a personal meeting

Don’t be afraid of technology. Until now, we were used to building our business relationships mainly based on personal meetings, and such meetings were even required for important decisions. Don’t be afraid to say no to face-to-face meetings today. It’s not only for your own safety, but also for the safety of everyone else. You have an alternative option, which is a video chat or conference call. Both alternatives will provide you with the possibility of further cooperation, only on a slightly unusual platform, but they will definitely not endanger anyone with infection.

Habits are Changing

Because of the pandemic, people around the world are changing their habits. For example, the Chinese have stopped spitting on the street. Although it might have made us nauseous, they considered it perfectly normal for centuries. Today, with the coronavirus, they are rethinking this habit and trying to do everything possible to prevent the virus from spreading. Please take all my advice only as a recommendation, not a dogma. Further, what I describe here are the rather extreme possibilities of protecting your safety. Please never forget common sense. Etiquette and its rules always dictate that they be followed precisely and only in accordance with it.


How do you point out to someone that they have not washed their hands?

You might try saying something like: “Maybe you didn’t notice, but there’s disinfectant available here and it’s even free.”

What if someone calls me, they know I’m home, but I just can’t take the time to talk right now because I have a lot of responsibilities? How do I end a call?

You don’t have to apologize or explain anything today. Just say, “I’m sorry, I can’t attend to you now. I’ll call you later.” Today, everyone knows that people are not only working at home, but also teaching their children, etc. No one will think that just because someone is at home, they automatically have nothing to do.

What do you do when you are in a grocery store and suddenly someone comes up to you and does not respect the required distances?

Don’t lecture others, but instead, suggest what you should both do. So, you can say, “I think we should keep more distance between each other” Have you ever tried to use your shopping cart as a “buffer” to use to define your personal safe zone? If not, try it, but please knowingly and very carefully.

Are you feeling like it’s impossible to express your emotions using only your eyes, while wearing a face mask, even though you would very much like to?

Learn how to smile with more than just your eyes. Supermodel Tyra Banks is a master in this. Get inspired by her online videos.