Over the course of this pandemic, we went from half-jokingly swapping handshakes with elbow bumps to a full-blown lockdown to this weird limbo where some are vaccinated, some aren't, and all we want is to feel a sense of normalcy. Events are back, but they're not like they were before. A vaccination card is now just as important as a state ID and you might just get a custom face mask as a party favor. The pandemic shattered the old rules of etiquette, leaving in its wake "pandemiquette," as lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann puts it.
"Etiquette is really about putting others at ease. We perform etiquette by using what I like to refer to as three core values, which is respect, honesty, and consideration. Etiquette matters because how we show up in the world can dictate how we interact and are treated by others," says Swann. "This darn pandemiquette has really taken on a life of its own."
In the latest episode of The Well+Good Podcast, Well+Good director of creative development Ella Dove speaks with Swann, who is founder of The Swann School of Protocol, and Lauren Gus, executive vice president of leadership at entertainment company Superfly. They discuss how to navigate ever-evolving pandemic etiquette while honoring what makes you feel comfortable without offending others. As much as wearing a mask and maintaining distance has to do with health, it also boils down to etiquette.
When it comes to large events, it's imperative to do your research before you go. Gus says to check the venue's website or social media for the rules.
"What's hard right now is there isn't a national expectation or a national mandate on how these are conducted," says Gus. "And even within that, even within the same city, it's changing constantly. So I think it's really important as that attendee that you are checking in and reading all those materials and understanding what's expected."
It gets murkier when it comes to smaller events held among loved ones. For example, is it rude to ask your party guests to show proof of vaccination? Not really, says Swann.
"As a host, you always want to put yourself in a position to care for your guests, and you want to care for the guests as a whole, the ones who are vaccinated and the ones who are not," says Swann. "First and foremost, it is appropriate to do because this is our new world that we live in. One of the things you can do is share that information on the actual invitation itself. So when you send out the invitation tell people what your intent is. If you say, 'I only want to have folks who are fully vaccinated, because of the way we're going to interact with one another while we're there.'"
If you're limiting your social interactions to only people who have been vaccinated, or if you are unvaccinated and can't go to an event because of it, Swann says it's inevitable that feelings will get hurt. But if you lead with respect and open communication, it's possible to overcome any initial discomfort. And once we're fully on the other side of this, our social interactions may be better for it.
"We've gone through a lot, we've seen a lot, and experienced quite a bit," says Swann. "One of the things that I think will stick is a bit more empathy towards one another, which is so important when it comes to etiquette and really making others feel comfortable and putting them at ease and so forth. That empathy piece, that emotional intelligence that we need to have, I do believe that that's going to have a continued impact on people."
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