Social Niceties: 2020 Edition

I’m back in the office today. Ironically, it feels like I’m even more socially distant than before. I have my door closed, because I don’t want to wear a mask for no real reason, and the building itself is closed too. This means I’ve seen a grand total of 4 people since I walked into the building, and that was in the first 15 minutes. Since then? I’ve been in my office. It’s very, very quiet. When I was at home, I could take a break and go talk to Denisa or my kids at any time.

Positive: I’m able to focus much more easily.

Negative: It’s kind of lonely, which is not the feeling I was expecting after 5 months. Things should change a bit when the building opens, but . . . maybe not as much as I think, since I’ll still have to have the door closed. (We can have 50 people “per space.” If my door is open, I need to have a mask on, and I count toward that 50 person cap on the first floor. If my door is closed, more people can be on the first floor, and I don’t need to have a mask on. If it were just a matter of masking, I’d probably have it open a good deal of the time. But I don’t want to make it so one less person can be in here, just because I want my door open . . .)

I think navigating the coming semester is going to be very tricky, from a social niceties standpoint. I’ve now been in several different environments with strangers and friends where masks are involved (or where they theoretically should be considered, at least). And figuring out how to reach some sort of a consensus about how they should be handled is like rocket science. A few examples:

  • The person you’re meeting doesn’t have a mask on. You do. If you’re outside, that doesn’t seem like too big of a discrepancy. If you’re inside, it seems like a much greater one. (Or at least it will to some.) Some of the people will be insulted if you ask them to put on a mask. Some of them have forgotten they didn’t have one on. How do you ask someone politely to put on a mask? (It goes both ways. I got to work this morning and was halfway to my office before I realized I’d left my mask in my car. I had to go back and get it. It’s such an easy thing to forget.)
  • Friends come over to visit with you outside. You’d be more comfortable if they wore a mask, but they haven’t brought one and don’t seem to think of it at all. Do you bring it up? Do you put one on and hope they get the hint? Do you not worry about it at all? They’re your friends! Making them put on a mask (or putting one on yourself) still feels like you’re implying they’re unclean somehow. At least it does to me. When you’re around your friends, why are you wearing a mask? If there’s low community spread (like there is in Maine at the moment), that makes it even thornier. In all likelihood, neither of you is infected. The mask is just getting in the way. But if you keep wearing a mask, then hopefully that community spread stays low. Better to have a #firstworldproblem and dither about social niceties around a mask than to have to know 100% that you need one, right?
  • In class, all the students are wearing a mask. One shows up without one and makes a stink about it. Freedom! America! I’ve already seen a lot of debate around how to handle that. Hopefully it’s worked through quickly, but it all adds to the stress.
  • I met up with a friend from high school I haven’t seen in probably . . . ten years(?) yesterday. It felt very wrong to me to just have us both show up and casually wave to each other. No hugs. No familiarity. I missed that. But it also didn’t feel right to not have a mask on. (She’s also an epidemiologist, so that helped the situation.)

I see people continue to share articles about how this pandemic is overhyped. How Sweden is already back to normal, and they never had mandatory masks or quarantines. (Never mind the fact that might be an argument in favor of having a robust national healthcare system and a populace that takes health and well-being seriously. I could go on. But I’m not going to.) People want to believe this isn’t an issue. They want to believe we’re all going to be able to go back to normal, and that this is no big deal.

I would love to be wrong. I would love to have it proved to be no big deal. We’ll know one way or another (again) after all these schools have opened up. We’ll have plenty of examples to point to. Schools that social distanced and schools that didn’t. Of course, I remember saying this same exact thing back when a lot of the places across the country were doing away with their quarantines. The results from that? More death. Granted, not as extreme as it might have been (I think the prevalence of masks from many is helping with that, as is the fact that many are social distancing regardless of what the government does or doesn’t say.) But so what if I was right before, and I’m fairly certain I’ll be right again now? That doesn’t really change anything around what’s going to happen in America in the next few months.

Sigh. Sorry. I’m getting sidetracked. All I really wanted to say was that figuring out how to navigate the mask issue on a personal level is going to be tricky, and I’m not looking forward to figuring it out. On the other hand, I do believe that at this point, if/when I’m ever “just a bit sick” (and we’re not in a pandemic), I’ll almost definitely wear a mask to protect the people around me from catching it. That seems like the right thing to do, even if some of the people apparently don’t want to return the favor.

Baby steps . . .


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2 thoughts on “Social Niceties: 2020 Edition”

  1. I’ve stopped asking folks to wear a mask and instead give them one. If they don’t put it on at that point, then I ask. This is in the library, mind you. When I’m with friends, we wear them. When I’m with family, they sometimes throw a fit, but I have stopped caring. They wear it or go away. I think my manners and some civility has gone bye-bye.

    1. Maybe the solution to this is to just make myself look so outrageously contagious that anyone who even comes into contact with me for a moment hurries to put a mask on as fast as possible. 🙂

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