Earlier this month, I watched the America’s Cup sailing races on television, broadcast live from Auckland, New Zealand. One might have mistaken it for old footage from another year because there were crowds of hundreds gathered in public spaces, watching the exhilarating races on the bay.
Boats anchored closer to the course were filled with dozens of cheering spectators. It was simply unbelievable to imagine this was live television — my screen filled with happy, unmasked fans, lined up not 6 feet apart but barely 6 inches apart — an otherworldly scene rather than halfway around this world.
The Kiwis and others have managed to move on from the coronavirus pandemic without vaccines, resuming a sense of normalcy through a series of mandates similar but more consistent than in parts of the United States.
Our behavior and relationship with the outside world informs how we succeed as a community. Civilization is dependent upon human interaction. The moment we leave the house, make a call or write a post online, we are engaging members of society.
Although I have written on this topic before, it has never been more relevant than now and bears repeating.
While it will be some time before we achieve the success of some of our foreign friends, society is reopening here in our small city and beyond.
In pursuit of civility, and because it’s been a while, here are tips on courtesy to navigate our communities near and far while in motion.
- Hold the door for any and all.
- Stand right. Walk left. In the U.S., stand on the right on stairwells, escalators and moving sidewalks, putting your bag behind or in front of you so people can pass on the left.
- Step to the side of a sidewalk or room to consult a phone/map/friend. Do not walk while looking down at your phone — far too many accidents!
- Passengers exit first. When bus, train or elevator doors open, always let the passengers inside exit first before attempting to board. The same goes for entering buildings — the people exiting have right of way and create space for you to enter.
- Don’t cough or sneeze in your hand ever again, as it can transfer germs to poles, door handles or seats. Cover your mouth with a mask, tissue or elbow.
- Have your fare ready for quick boarding.
- "Headphone volume should only be audible to you. Do a test by asking a friend to try on your headphones to see if you can hear the beat of your music or the rat-a-tat of a video game.
- Keep cellphone ringers off or low and conversations brief in soft tones with G-rated content.
- Don’t swear in public, especially around children. This has been particularly difficult for me in my house during the pandemic. My current alternatives are borrowed from children’s Australian cartoon Bluey: “Biscuits!” and “Cheese and Jam” are quite effective when yelled out loud.
- Give up your seat on the bus or park bench for someone who truly needs or would appreciate it (e.g. expectant mothers, elders, people with disabilities).
- Be aware of how much space you are taking up and avoid spilling over into your neighbor’s territory (aka “manspreading”). This includes putting your belongings on an empty seat in an airport terminal or waiting room that otherwise could be occupied.
- Give parents a break and a hand. Traveling with little ones is no small feat.
- Perfume and scented products can be just as odiferous as body odor. Be conscientious about how you smell in tight quarters.
- Save extensive grooming for the privacy of a bathroom. Touching up makeup and tidying your hair is acceptable.
- The center seat gets (and earns) both arm rests on a flight.
- Remove your backpack to avoid knocking into someone in tight spaces.
- Be of service to those who need an extra hand.
- Share a compliment or make an observation with a stranger or familiar face.
- Acknowledge the people around you with eye contact, a smile or a greeting. Remember your “pleases” and “thank-you's." Always say “Hello” when entering a business. This is especially important now that we are all masked and facial expressions are harder to convey.
- In restaurants, keep your mask on until you’ve placed your order and try to put it back on anytime you speak to your server.
- In public, continue to wear your mask. I have dedicated the last year of my life to protecting the health of my elders and peers … and yours. When asked to don your mask, the response is always, “Of course.” In my circle, the only time the topic of “freedom” arose was when discussing what the goal was. New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan have achieved normal life in warp speed through behavioral changes and no vaccine.
As we slowly reenter social and professional settings after a year off, we need to polish our glasses, so to speak, and become reacquainted with the people around us. Use etiquette as a tool to move through society with ease and thoughtfulness, one door at a time.