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Exercising Social Etiquette During The COVID-19 Pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Etiquette, thanks to COVID-19, isn’t what it used to be. It’s not about handshakes and hugs — it’s often about navigating around everyone’s own particular social distance comfort level.

KSL-TV photojournalist Peter Rosen discussed pandemic etiquette with columnist Judith Martin, “Miss Manners,” and Lizzie Post, a great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, author of the 1922 bestseller, “Etiquette.”

Martin, along with her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and daughter, Jacobina Martin, wrote the new e-book “Miss Manners Guide to Contagious Etiquette.” Post is working on the 100th-anniversary edition of Emily Post’s “Etiquette.”

What follows are edited portions of those interviews.

Peter Rosen: Dear Miss Manners [and Lizzie Post], how do you deal with someone who’s invading your six-foot space?

Judith Martin: Well, not by screaming at them and characterizing them as scofflaws. When you want to change someone’s behavior — this has always been true — you don’t do it by insulting them and shaming them. It just doesn’t work. They dig in. If you can say, ‘Oh, I think I better back off a little. We’re a little too close,’ you give people a way to do what you want them to do while saving face.

Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners.

Lizzie Post: You need to speak up for yourself if you are uncomfortable or you need to maneuver yourself if you’re not comfortable speaking up.  Practice starting to notice, hey, this is a time where I’m just going to move to the next aisle…or is it a time where you feel comfortable saying, ‘I’m sorry, do you mind giving me just a little bit more space so that I could pass through?’

Peter Rosen: I was invited to a socially-distanced party. I’m no spring chicken, so I feel more at risk and I had questions for the host. What’s the best way to respectfully approach the subject?

Judith Martin: By starting out saying, ‘I’m at high risk, I’d love to come, but I’m a little worried about the conditions. What are you doing?’ This is the case, I think, when you put it on yourself; when you say, ‘you know, I’m a little timid about this,’ people will understand.

Lizzie Post talks with KSL TV photojournalist Peter Rosen.

Lizzie Post: You really should expect if you’re inviting people over, for people to ask you questions. Things like, ‘Have you traveled recently?’ Or ‘how kind of small is the circle that you’re keeping? I’m just curious, and I hope you don’t mind my asking.’ But these are questions of safety right now.

…‘I didn’t mean to upset you, but this is just me trying to keep myself and my family safe. And I hope you’ll understand, but maybe we can get together a different way.’ You know, try to frame it in that in a positive way that says, no offense meant, I just really am trying my best during a difficult time.

Lizzie Post: I’ve been approached by one of my friends … and my friend called me up the day of the get-together. And she said, I really hope you don’t mind my asking, but I do really want to ask you, you mentioned you got a COVID test, and that it came back negative. Do you mind telling me why you had to go get it? 

She was very gentle about how she brought it up. And I think it made me really receptive to being able to say, ‘Oh, well, here’s what I can tell you.’

We, as Americans, aren’t always that great at awkward situations. And this pandemic is presenting us with a lot of frequent awkward situations. And I think we’re getting better. I think we’re getting better at being able to hear this isn’t comfortable for me anymore…I think that’ll be a strong, good thing that we gain out of this.

Judith Martin:  The overriding principle is you have to contain yourself enough not to drive other people crazy, and hope that they will contain themselves just enough not to drive you crazy … That’s the basic bargain of civilization. And it’s true in normal times and it’s certainly true now. That we all want as much personal freedom as possible but we also want a pleasant society … and so a little restraint and a little tolerance is what makes life bearable and we need it now more than ever.

KSL 5 TV Live

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