Masks and manners: Your essential etiquette tips for a polite and polished pandemic

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Social life in a post-pandemic world, as many have discovered, is dramatically different from life as we knew it. This also means that the way we interact with each other has also changed.

“This pandemic has created a lot of ambiguity about how we should behave in general, but especially in terms of physical contact,” says etiquette consultant Astrie Sunindar-Ratner.

“Many of the social etiquette norms that ordinarily enable us to create pleasant and rewarding relationships have been taken away pretty much overnight – we can’t shake hands or smile at each other, or invite someone over for dinner or out to tea.”

Singapore-based Sunindar-Ratner, an entrepreneur and style maven who is often featured in magazines for her feminine sartorial sense, is an international youth and social etiquette consultant, certified by The International Etiquette and Protocol Academy in London.

She says: “Because of the limitations of this new reality, good etiquette is needed now more than ever, and it takes a little more effort, as it requires us to emphasise behaviours we haven’t necessarily habituated to.”

She shares some guidelines to new norms of personal style and etiquette to follow in this brave new world.

Astrie Sunindar-Ratner is a Singapore-based etiquette expert.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

What are some new norms of etiquette in daily interactions with loved ones and work contacts?

Be 100 per cent present on virtual calls, as nothing says you care less than being distracted on a call.

Change greetings and signoffs in emails and text messages to be a bit deeper. Writing “hope all is well” can come off a bit out of touch.

Instead, acknowledge the circumstances by saying something akin to, “During these difficult times I hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy”.

It has also become a norm to send small gifts to friends and loved ones’ homes just to show you are thinking about them and not for a specific occasion.

With most people wearing masks that cover half the face, how can we still convey good manners in person?

Polite greetings are needed more than ever because, unfortunately, this is the little interaction we now have with others.

Greet people with a small wave and nod – it is worth noting that even when wearing a mask, it is still important to smile when you meet people because your eyes and your voice will convey that genuine warmth to others.

When interacting with people in real life, especially those working in stores, make eye contact, ask how they are doing and say “please” and “thank you” to show you acknowledge the stress they might be under.

From elbow or ankle taps to “namaste” hands, we’ve seen many suggestions on how to adapt our greetings. What would you recommend?

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To me, there is no one correct way. Etiquette varies from country to country. However, I find a little wave and a nod or slight bow and a short greeting like good morning or good afternoon is always respectful.

In what situations might it be still acceptable to exchange hugs? It is a hard one, for in some cultures hugging and kissing is their way of showing love.

Personally I think this should be reserved for meeting close family in a home setting, like for children and grandparents for example. But ultimately, I always say use your judgment.

How should we react to someone coughing, sneezing or not observing social distancing in public, particularly when our first instinct may be to run away in horror?

Although our first instinct might be to run away or to tell them off, it is not our place. As long as the person is wearing a mask there is not much we can do, apart from walking away or keeping a distance from them.

However, if the person is not, you can let them know kindly but firmly to please wear their masks or to keep distance.

If someone, for example, is standing too close to me (coughing or not), I may say, politely but firmly, “Excuse me, do you mind stepping back please”.

Avoid saying “sorry”, which is often used interchangeably with “excuse me” but shouldn’t be because it is actually an apology.

Also, use “please” and say “thank you” when they comply. There is no need to be haughty about it, and never use a hand gesture to motion someone to back off.

If they still don’t move, alert someone who works in the location to intervene and leave it at that, knowing that you have done the right thing.

Is it frivolous in these times to be concerned about fashion and beauty?

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The way you present yourself is one of the key components of etiquette, and looking put together is just as important now as it ever was, possibly even more.

If you look good, you will feel good about yourself, and that is important when so many people are feeling down, given all that’s going on in the world.

Even if you are not leaving the house, getting out of your PJs or home clothes every now and then is re-energising and can put you in a more productive mindset.

Coronavirus beauty essentials: How to adapt your routine when you wear a face mask

Given the importance of eye contact, this is a great time to invest in pretty eye make-up palettes.

Another invaluable consideration during this time is skincare.

Wearing masks causes excessive sweat and moisture to build up around the cheeks, leading to breakouts, irritation and damaged skin.

I have found that cleansing my face immediately after removing the mask for the day really helps.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.