He recently answered questions in a live Q&A about manners in the age of the coronavirus. Here is an edited excerpt. As Farley said in the chat: “We’ll get better at this. . . . It’s just going to take some time . . . and patience!”
Getting strangers to back off (politely)
Q: If someone approaches you and reaches out their hand, what do you say/do so that you don't hurt their feelings?
A: I would have thought we were beyond this dilemma by now, though it was a scenario I encountered a lot in the early days (pre-distancing). If someone puts out their hand now, I would smile and use any one of the safer alternatives to a handshake. I think my favorite is the “namaste bow.” Either way, no one should have hurt feelings for not having a handshake returned in the age of the coronavirus. These are extraordinary times, and they call for extraordinary measures.
Q: I walk my dog in my suburban neighborhood. My dog is very friendly and has been routinely petted by neighbors we encounter, especially the kids and the older adults. I am concerned; this is not a good idea, but I don't want to offend these people, either. What is an appropriate way to advise them that right now we are skipping having other people in close, cuddly contact with our dog?
A: This is a time for all of us to be understanding and respectful of social distancing guidelines. I know how challenging that can be, particularly with a dog who hasn’t heard a peep about the coronavirus. It may be that choosing to walk the dog at different times of the day (when fewer people are out and about) or in a different area (where there are fewer walkers) might help. But if a passerby fails to respect the recommended distance, I would not demur from letting the person know — in as nice a manner as possible — that you are distancing, and request that they say hello from an appropriate number of feet away. As you say your goodbyes, you can say that you look forward to meeting them on the street after all this is over, at which time they will be more than welcome to pet your canine companion once again.
Q: In the grocery, I stand back and wait while others make their selections, then I step forward when there's adequate room. Immediately, another woman moves right next to me at the shelf. How do we best ask others to give us our safe distance while holding our ground? If I keep moving away, I'll never get the shopping done.
A: I know what you mean. This seems to be a particular issue for me in the yogurt aisle, as other shoppers spend what I’d classify as an interminable amount of time examining labels, as if it was the first time in their lives they had ever seen yogurt!
In your case, you are considerately waiting while others blithely stride up and take your spot without acknowledging your patient presence. Giving them a very generous benefit of the doubt, it may be that they simply do not realize you are waiting. Have you tried using your grocery cart as a buffer, hemming yourself in to a safe zone so no one else can approach while you are making your selection? If that is not practical, if you see someone striding up to the shelf with their eyes on the prize, I would nicely nip that in the bud and say something along the lines of, “Good morning. I believe I’m next for this shelf, but I’ll be done in just a moment.
Policing others' behavior (or not)
Q: Should you admonish your friends and relatives who continue to go to multiple groceries looking for all of their favorite items in this crisis? Experts tell us to not go if possible, and if you must go, just go once a week to one store.
A: Admonish is a strong word, and yet, these are frightening times. There is little you can do to stop those who insist on going about their lives as normal — even in these far-from-normal times.
It may also be that they are going to the grocery store multiple times per week because they feel there is no other option. For example, I live in New York City, and with our kitchens often being quite small, there is no room for a week’s (or two) worth of groceries.
If you are healthy and able, and these are elderly individuals who live relatively close to you, perhaps you could offer to do some shopping for them? If they are also healthy and able, perhaps you could set up a “shopping pool,” where you each take a week to purchase enough groceries for yourself and the other person.
Regardless, do stay safe, wearing a mask while you are out shopping. And don’t forget to thank the cashiers and other employees at the grocery stores, who are literally ensuring that we all have food to eat at this time.
Q: How should I deal with millennials who admonish some of us boomers who were not so quick to appreciate the impact of this pandemic?
A: For people who were naysayers but who now are believers, I would have the integrity to admit that they underestimated the scope of what this would become. With that said, an “OK boomer” taunt does nothing to help the situation, and no one — millennial or otherwise — should be using the scourge of this pandemic as an opportunity to score debate points. We are all in this together, and we’re learning and adapting together, too. There is nothing to be gained by gloating about how right you were.
To tip or not to tip (and how)
Q. I am tipping people who bring takeout and groceries to my door. Is it rude to leave a tip in an envelope on the porch? I don't really want to be in contact with them to hand them a bill, but I also don't want to be rude.
A: I think there are a few ways you can address the issue. The first is to inquire when placing your order whether you can leave a tip in advance on your credit card. Many companies and restaurants have established “contactless delivery” as a means of safeguarding the health of their customers and their employees, providing an easy solution for the dilemma you pose. For establishments that do not offer an option to pay a tip in advance, I would use a clean envelope for the cash, and include a thank-you message on the envelope itself. Something along the lines of: “Thank you for doing the work you do. It is so appreciated — especially at this time.”
Tape the envelope to the door, clearly marked for them. I assure you, far from thinking you are rude, they will very much appreciate the gesture.
This is also a time to be extra generous with our tips — providing, of course, that your own financial means still allow.
Q. For delivery people, such as UPS and FedEx drivers, besides a big thank-you note on my porch, can/should we tip them?
A: As a matter of practice, UPS and FedEx drivers do not get tipped. The same goes for your letter carrier. Only at the holidays would you consider a tip for a regular delivery person. During these unusual times, for a small package or envelope, a tip is still not expected. With that being said, if the driver is bringing your new treadmill up four flights of stairs, I would definitely tip.
Q. Will extra tipping be necessary or expected once we are safely able to visit our usual service providers, hair stylists, manicurists or trainers?
A: Consider the amount of money we are all saving while not having our roots touched up, our abs pushed to the limit or our nails looking terrific. Conversely, think about the massive amount of income those same providers are losing during this time. So yes, absolutely. If you are financially able, be extra generous when you get to see them again after a long time away.
New etiquette for business meetings
Q: Is there any etiquette as to how to participate in Zoom without being rude? People talk all at the same time.
A: This is a widespread issue, particularly as we are all learning best practices for videoconferencing. Among the ways to avoid the “everyone talking at once” phenomenon:
●Designate one person to be the host of the call.
●All microphones should by default be muted until the time has come for questions or input.
●Use the “raise hand” feature when people want to talk. Or, if the group is less formal, consider a signal that you have something to say — whether an actual raised hand on camera or a homemade sign that says, “I have something to say.”
●Make sure everyone is on “gallery view,” so all participants can see others and not have to scroll down a line to see every participant. This should also help prevent crosstalk.
Social interactions with masks
Q: I have worn my fabric mask once so far, for my weekly trip to the market. I felt so awkward. I was smiling under my mask, thanking people, but they can't see my face. Do we just try to use our words more? Any tips?
A: I would learn how to “smize,” or smile with your eyes. Supermodel Tyra Banks is the master of this, and you can find her how-to videos online. In the interim, keep smiling — with your eyes and mouth. We need more friendly faces at this time!