Pandemic Etiquette – The New Social Norms in a Post-COVID-19 World

A dude washing his hands while a plant watches intently

Being sure to say please and thank you. Taking turns when speaking. Making good eye contact. All of these are good manners that we all appreciate and perform every day. When we practice proper social etiquette, in a way, we give back to the community. And when we fail to do so, our behaviors might even be considered rude. Refusing a handshake may be perceived as a slap in the face. Or at least it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the lines between acceptable and unacceptable social etiquette behaviors are less clear. And it seems as if they are in a constant state of flux as we navigate these strange times.

From social distancing, to face mask wearing, to conversations about the coronavirus pandemic, a new social etiquette is emerging. While there still aren’t clear delineations between right and wrong, it’s becoming clear that some behaviors are socially preferred. Likewise, the number of awkward social encounters appear to be occurring more often. Understanding that these changes are new for all of us, it’s therefore worth exploring the most common challenges we may face. And it’s also worth discussing how you might best react in these rather delicate situations.

Social Distancing and the New Social Etiquette

According to the CDC guidelines, social distancing is strongly encouraged. In order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we should keep a minimum distance of 6 feet from others. This can be quite difficult at times, especially when in the supermarket or a store. But good manners require us to stay alert and do our best in this regard. Today’s social etiquette demands that we respect other people’s space, which in essence shows we respect their well-being. In return, we hope that they will do the same.

A trio of cartoons show the right way to sneeze and cough
Social etiquette may be slightly different because of COVID-19, but it’s still an important part of giving back.

Of course, most of us have been in situations where social distancing rules were not respected. One of the most difficult situations occurs when a friend or acquaintance tries to shake our hand. For many, this is a natural instinct or habit, if you will. And each time, it places us in an awkward position. Do we shake their hand and risk being contaminated? Or do we resist and possibly offend them? Today’s social etiquette requires is to walk a tightrope between these two options. In other words, good manners would be to avoid the handshake but still express that we’re happy to see them.

Some people are comfortable with fist or elbow “bumps.” In these instances, you may offer an alternative to the handshake. Others prefer to avoid contact altogether. In this case, your best choice is to apologize and express how much you want to shake their hand. Good manners are often about showing respect to others. And both of these techniques strive to do just that when hugs and handshakes aren’t possible. Social distancing is difficult, especially in a culture where frequent social contact occurs. But by showing respect in other ways, you can maintain a safe social distance without offending anyone in the process.

Social Etiquette and Face Masks

In some ways, social distancing is easier than wearing a face mask throughout the day. But with the coronavirus pandemic far from over, some cities are mandating the use of face masks in some situations. In terms of everyday use, however, wearing a face mask has been primarily left up to the individual. But here again, social pressures are evolving, and a new social etiquette is emerging. It’s therefore important to know what is being increasingly perceived as good manners and what is not.

From a social perspective, using face mask has an interesting effect on others. The more direct effect is showing that you are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It also demonstrates that you are concerned for others’ wellbeing by reducing anxieties. This is especially true when wearing a face mask in grocery and department stores. But at the same time, wearing a face mask also creates a peer pressure on individuals not wearing one. Regardless of their beliefs, they feel a sense of social pressure the more they see others wearing face masks. With face mask use increasing, it’s therefore not surprising that this is being seen as proper social etiquette.

From a good manners’ perspective, wearing a face mask in public is always a safe bet. Though this is not required in many communities, social opinions appear to be shifting in this direction. At the same time, evidence suggests that wearing face masks does slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. If cases of COVID-19 continue to increase, it is therefore probable that mask wearing will be the expected social norm. Of course, many will choose a face mask with a more fashionable design. But proper social etiquette will likely include wearing some type of face mask for the foreseeable future.

Social Etiquette and COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed what we consider to be respectful behavior and good manners. But it has also changed social etiquette in other ways. Specifically, how we express our views and opinions about the coronavirus pandemic can evoke positive or negative social reactions. Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic has health, economic, and social ramifications. But it has also triggered differing views politically as well. How we handle these differences is often just as important as our choices regarding social distancing and face mask use.

The important thing to remember is that good manners routinely involve showing concern for others. This doesn’t mean you should neglect self-care or ignore important facts. But proper social etiquette is a reflection of what we as a community and society believe is most important. It highlights our values and beliefs collectively while trying to make things better through our actions. Indeed, social norms are changing as the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the country. But these norms are meant to protect our wellbeing both now and in the future. Because of this, good manners definitely matter and are an important way that we give back to our communities.

About the Author

Through timely and thoughtful articles, the book Project Bold Life: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success, and other media, we deliver engaging content that educates, motivates and inspires you to live a Bold Life.
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