• Susie Wilson


Society's new rules in the coronavirus era

Just because there's a global pandemic, doesn't mean that people can neglect to be polite and courteous. It means that we should be even more so when interacting with others with social distancing.
Because these days, it's about being more than well mannered and considerate. It's about being hygienic and saving lives.

The Urban Dictionary defines covetiquette as: "Etiquette during the Covid-19 pandemic, including but not limited to social distancing and refraining from hoarding."

We here at Susie Wilson Finishing School have endeavoured to provide you with the nuance within the definition.

Crossing paths on the street

You may still walk around your neighbourhood under the stay-at-home order.

Inevitably it happens — someone jaunting down the footpath in your direction. Quelle horreur! They are getting closer. The footpath is only so wide but we all must practise sofia distancing from each other. So who moves aside? Who crosses the street?

This is time to practice "acknowledgement and avoidance."

Acknowledgement: Say hello. Maybe offer a "have a nice day!" You are saying, "We are all in this together, n'est pas?"

Avoidance: After offering your friendly salutations. Jumping into the street is perfectly acceptable nowadays. I suggest using the following guidelines for this inevitable encounter:

  • Elders get the right of way first. Older people are at higher risk of coronavirus complications. If you see them, step aside and give them plenty of room as they pass.

  • Families, children, and people with pets have next priority.

If you have children and you see elders coming your way, teach the children a lesson about respect by letting the older folks pass).

  • Runners. Run into the street.

  • Single walkers and couples fall to the bottom of the right-of-way priority list. If two singles/couples pass, play it by ear, but better safe than infected. Opt to be the gracious one and let the other party pass by.

A note about pets: Now is not the time to pet Ollie or Fifi along your walk. 1.5m, remember? 


This letter is a good example of the tensions surrounding masks these days:

Dear Susie,

My husband and I have begun to wear masks in public. We are doing it as an act of care and concern for others, but also just help remind ourselves not to touch our faces on those few instances when we are out and about. 

The other day I went to pick up some supplies from my daughter. She appeared offended to see us in masks. Of course, as a young person, she feels she is impervious and eternal. But I think she thought we thought she would pollute us. It's hard to untangle the situation, but she basically threw a bottle of hand sanitiser, grenade-like, into the back of our car and ran away. How should we handle such encounters in the future? Bring her a mask? 

Karen Hensan

Mask wearing in certain cultures is commonplace for a range of reasons: A person is ill and doesn't want to spread it; a person doesn't want to get sick during cold/flu season, or they are more sensitive to seasonal allergies. During this time in Australia, we can all learn something from this perspective.

It's not offensive, it's considerate — another sentiment you could relate to your daughter. And if that doesn't do it, remind her that the federal government recommends wearing masks in coronavirus hot spots.

Grocery stores

The basics: wipe down your trolley before and after you go shopping at the grocery store. We all have to get food, and we all bear the responsibility to slow le coronavirus.

Shopping: Hopefully, you are wearing gloves. And hopefully, you are rinsing or wiping down all the food items that you bring home. Still, many people who wrote in feel that "if you touch it, you buy it." I feel that is reasonable during a pandemic.

It can be difficult sometimes — especially when you need an avocado that will ripen just at the right time — but make an honest effort. If you pick up a can, it goes in your trolley. Do your best.

The line: Many stores have now placed 1.5m markers for where people can stand and wait in line for the cashier. If you don't see any, respect the1.5m rule. Do not crowd in the line and remember social distancing from the person ahead of you. It's okay to politely ask others in line to spread out (you can refer them to this article). "Clear signal to others what you are doing. "Politeness is always about being appropriate to a situation this allows people to interpret what is going on." Health authorities want people to exercise "social distancing" measures, 1.5m advice.

Hoarding: There is a thin line between stocking up for a week or two, and hoarding. Remember that supply chains are strong when it comes to the grocery storeThere is enough food to go around (and toilet paper for that matter).

There is no need to buy everything in sight (as if you are filling up the shelves in your underground bunker). We can all get what we require and there is no need to leave the elderly and those of us with less income without anything to eat for the next month.


Covetiquette surrounding children are among the most mentioned concerns. They require us all — parents and non-parents alike — to take extra consideration.

Understanding: Parents may not have any option but to keep their children with them, even while visiting the grocery store. So children go where parents go, and people must eat, for heaven's sake. So if you see a child in the grocery store, keep in mind that we are all trying to get through this together and working with what we've got. If you must glare, pull up your mask so no one can see.

Another point: Everybody parents in their way. But we must respect other parents' decisions during this time. One listener pointed out that while their child was outside, another parent let their child walk right up and get face-to-face with them for playtime. It happened within a matter of seconds and with no consultation.

Even if you, as a parent, feel this is okay, IT IS NOT. Let your children play en Plein air if you like, but disregarding other families' needs for social distancing is impolite, and dare I say, selfish. Also, explain to your children why they need to be considerate; discuss the pandemic in ways they can understand.

But remember, always use your manners.