Sage Advice: COVID-19 Courtesy Questions

By Amy Dickinson | June 10th, 2020

A mask? A step aside? A simple 'thank you'?

Woman practicing COVID-19 courtesy by wearing a mask to the grocery store

Dear Amy: Here’s a typical scenario: I am walking on a trail that is only a few feet wide. Someone is coming toward me. Neither of us is wearing a mask.

I step off the trail to give the other person (and myself) space. The other person walks by without saying anything.

Am I wrong in thinking I should receive a “thank you” for moving aside?

Or, I’m in a market with the aisles marked as one-way and a person with a cart (with or without a mask) is coming in the other direction. I’ll either retreat from the aisle or face the shelves to allow the person to get by.

I passingly wonder if I should remind the person that they are walking the wrong way, but again, a “thank you” would be nice.

And then there are masks in general, the wearing of which seems to be devolving into a political statement.

I wear a mask in public (especially indoors), not because it protects me (most masks available to me will not prevent airborne viruses from getting through), but because it protects other people.

If we were going to be courteous to other people, wouldn’t we all wear a mask?

I realize that courtesy and etiquette in the age of COVID-19 is a minor issue (and it is a minor issue to me). But I think things would be a little better if we were more courteous with each other (and less political). Am getting too worked up about nothing?

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

— Seeking Too Much Courtesy?

Dear Seeking: You might benefit from some perspective. I wonder if for every instance of rudeness, there might be two or three of people demonstrating social kindness. But — rudeness takes up a lot of space.

In every instance you cite, I agree that you are being courteous, and the other person should acknowledge your courtesy. But — people don’t always behave in optimal ways. In American culture, we don’t seem to have a very rigid code of social conduct. This means that some people interpret their own personal freedom as license to behave however they want, claiming a sort of sovereign rule over what should be shared public space. (This is how going without a mask somehow becomes a political statement, rather than one of protecting public health.)

Also — lots of people weren’t raised as well as you may have been. Or — they’re having a bad day, are stuck in their heads, or distractedly walking the wrong way down an aisle accidentally.

One minor tip from me, to others: People should not necessarily wish for a verbal acknowledgment from a maskless person if they are also maskless.

As you know, the virus seems to be spread primarily through aerosolized particles expelled when people speak, cough or sneeze. A silent wave, thumbs up or head nod might be preferable to a verbal “thank you.”

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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