After 10 months of life under this damned Covid-19 cloud, we all have our own way of dealing with it, whether it’s by pretending it doesn’t exist and ignoring the myriad rules, tiers, and traffic lights, or accepting the new regime with a more phlegmatic approach… so to speak.
We have seen the public information signs dotted about our town centres and bus stops, urging us all to keep our distance, wear a face mask, wash our hands or sneeze into the crook of our elbows. But it seems that is not enough for some.
As we await our turn for a vaccine, what we need now is a guide to etiquette. A twee, sanctimonious little eight-page number which reads like a passive aggressive’s handbook, from that bastion of etiquette and manners: Scotland. Yep, the Scots. Not who I would have picked, either.
In reading the suggested guide to manners to help you through what remains of the coronavirus pandemic, I found that it helps immensely to imagine the advice being offered in the voice of Scotland’s tightly wound first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The school ma’amish tone, the “play nice, children” air and the implied displeasure help it all make perfect sense.
Offering safe passage through the new etiquette minefield created by a virus that kills indiscriminately, ‘The COVID Guide to Etiquette… and Pandemic Politeness’ instructs on what is best if, “You’re picking up a coffee when you see a colleague in the coffee shop, and they take off their mask to speak to you,” or when a stranger stands too close in the supermarket, or even the dreaded “friend invites you to birthday drinks at their house” (advice too late for those Covidiots, pop star Rita Ora and Sky News presenter Kay Burley).
And this is what has become of us. While trying desperately to be light-hearted, it’s not. It’s just lame. Smug, self-righteous government officials spending taxpayer money on etiquette guides, for a population deemed too thick to have realised that Covid-19 is a highly infectious virus that has so far taken more than 1.5 million lives worldwide and steps need to be taken to contain its spread.
Somehow making things easier – after months of draconian lockdowns, lost jobs, collapsed businesses, decimated holiday plans, and untold damage to the education of our children – is a book telling you how to chastise a family member who is “way too close when you meet outside for a walk.” Has the world really been waiting for a neat little guide that shows how to let others know that you have an issue with their behaviour, without ever having to say so explicitly?
So instead of the real-world reaction to someone riding your rear bumper in a supermarket queue of “Stop coughing in my face, you pig!” we have “I’ll step back and give you some space – it’s tricky in busy spaces to keep to 2 metres isn’t it?”
Dealing with other social interactions that might suddenly appear awkward, the guide offers some loaded get-outs: “I wouldn’t want to risk infecting you – that would be the worst birthday present ever,” or “Shall we catch-up outside where there is space to keep a wee distance?” The tone is clear, even if it is like speaking to a five-year-old.
Bearing in mind this was the brainchild of a government that asked its chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, to resign for breaking strict lockdown conditions – after she twice visited her holiday home with her family including an overnight stay and a visit to the beach, while the rest of the country were stuck indoors – it shows some brass neck to now be lecturing us all on how to behave.
Somehow, I’m not so sure that the patrons minding their own business over a pint in a Glasgow pub will be too hurried to read what to do “if your friend runs in for a hug.” Any attempt to do just that might be met with, “I’ll gie ye a skelpit lug!” (I’ll give you a slap round the ear) – not because of any fears about Covid infection, but because that’s just the way they are.
Sometimes the direct approach is most certainly the best option, even at the risk of causing offence. You don’t need to read that in a book.
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