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New rules for our new normal

New rules for our new normal
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While lockdown may have lifted in your area, the risk of COVID-19 remains as cases rise throughout the country. At the same time, many of us are weary of months of social distancing and eager to socialise with loved ones and friends, but the changing nature of the disease makes it difficult to determine how best to proceed. “We’re being bombarded with new information daily, sometimes hourly, about what to do,” says Sharon Schweitzer, an etiquette expert. “The scientific community is giving us information that a lot of times conflicts with what our community leaders and our political leaders are telling us to do.”

So, how can you maintain etiquette, which is all about making the other person feel comfortable, during these unprecedented times? “Good etiquette really is how you make other people feel,” says Lisa Mirza Grotts, an etiquette expert known as the Golden Rules Gal. “Right now, all that’s taken a back seat to health and safety and how we make people comfortable given our health situation.” Here are some guidelines to help you navigate socialising during this time.

Understand that not everyone is ready to socialise

Understand that not everyone is ready to socialise
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Everyone’s comfort level is different right now. “You may have to tell your friends: ‘You know what? I’m not in a position where I’m ready to visit with anyone yet,’” Schweitzer says. Or you may be comfortable socialising as long as others follow the recommendations of public health officials to wear masks, wash hands often, and socially distance. Just be forewarned that if your friends are a little more lackadaisical about what officials recommend to minimise the transmission of the virus, that could potentially create awkwardness and even outright conflict, Schweitzer notes. If you do choose to get together, avoid these coronavirus mistakes that are all too easy to make this summer.

Keep your social cohort small

Keep your social cohort small
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If you start to socialise, keep your group small—and not just for a particular gathering. It’s safer to see the same friends; it’s riskier to join different groups for meals every other night. “The key is moderation when engaging in social contact and managing the risk,” Schweitzer says.

Grotts says she and her husband have limited their social circle to people they were travelling with in December and January, before the situation developed into a pandemic. “The comfort level varies for everyone,” she says. “It’s impossible to social distance around a big group of people, it really is. Start small. But you should never put anyone at risk. If you’re a risk, then shrink your bubble to just you or you and your spouse. You have to protect yourself and others at all times.”

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communicate, communicate, communicate
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While communication is always important, now it’s absolutely essential. Ask your hosts what they’re comfortable with and how they plan to handle the get-together and be upfront about aspects of your life that may raise the risk of attending gatherings. “Most of the time, it’s been the women who have asked each other,” Schweitzer says. “Some of us may be married to or dating someone who is immunocompromised, and a lot of us didn’t even know.” And, of course, don’t attend a get-together if you’ve recently had contact with someone who’s tested positive or if you’re experiencing any COVID-related symptoms.

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Respect the host’s ground rules

Respect the host’s ground rules
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As a guest, the polite (and safe) thing to do is honour your host’s wishes, such as wearing your mask until you sit down and you’re spaced 1.5 metres apart. “When you’re at someone else’s home, it’s no different than going to a restaurant,” Grotts explains. “A polite society has rules. You just have to let the other party know about [them] ahead of time.”

Grotts says the conversation might go something like this: “John and I aren’t quite comfortable entertaining indoors, but we’d love to have you and your husband over for COVID cocktails outside. We will leave our garden gate open, so you don’t have to worry about catching anything. And we prefer that you bring your own wine glass if you don’t mind. That way we can just pour the wine and you don’t have to worry about our germs touching your glass.”

Minimise physical contact with friends

Minimise physical contact with friends
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After months of not seeing your friends and family in person, it will be tempting to hug them. But refrain for everyone’s safety. “Resisting the urge to hug and for human contact is difficult,” says Schweitzer. “However, our ability to maintain resilience during the long term is what will save us.” People understand that now is not the time for close personal contact.

After all, these photos will define the era of social distancing.

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Bring a non-perishable hostess gift

Bring a non-perishable hostess gift
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“To me, bringing a hostess gift is a polite thing to do,” Grotts says. Consider an item that the hostess doesn’t have to open for a few days, just like when people get packages and they say to wait two or three days until the germs are gone. Schweitzer recommends gifts that your friend can easily sanitize without ruining the item, such as wine, fragrance diffusers, tea towels, or candles. That said, be sure to ask your host. “If your friend says don’t bring anything, then don’t bring anything,” Schweitzer says.

Wear an effective mask

Wear an effective mask
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Avoid wearing a one-use mask that you’re using for the second week in a row. Wash, sanitize, and rotate your cloth masks in detergent and hot water to keep them clean. And during the gathering itself, wear the mask as often as possible, even if you’re outdoors. “If your friends are like ours, then after several months of quarantine with only virtual happy hours, you’re going to laugh and play around,” Schweitzer says. “But the aerosol transmission from laughing and loud talkers increases our risk. So protect yourselves and others.” Grotts suggests that guests keep their masks on during a tour of the garden, for example, and only remove them when it’s time to eat or drink, as you would in a restaurant. Of course, a mask is only effective if you’re using it correctly.

Here’s what doctors want you to know about coronavirus face masks.

Prepare to be outside

Prepare to be outside
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Most people who are getting together are hosting gatherings outdoors, which is generally safer. So expect small gatherings on patios, porches, or in the backyard with people staying 1.5 metres apart. Bring your own sunscreen, as well as a jumper or coat in case it gets chilly.

Be ready to speak up and listen

Be ready to speak up and listen
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Socially distancing outside may make it harder to hear people. Schweitzer advises addressing the situation with humour. She found a megaphone that she used in high school and decorated it. “And I tell them if anyone has any trouble hearing someone from this distance, we do have a megaphone available,” she says. “We put it where everybody can see it, and they just think it’s hilarious.”

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