In this era of COVID-19, etiquette has often taken a back seat to bad manners. Many of us have witnessed an epidemic of disrespect and rudeness related to the precautions we are taking to protect ourselves.
We asked two etiquette experts for advice on handling the uncomfortable situations we have all had to confront: Yvonne Salas, owner of Etiqueta Excellence in Pembroke Pines, and Dannie Fowler, owner of The Etiquette School of Florida in Orlando. Here are their guidelines for dealing with friends, family and strangers with firmness but also kindness.
Q. A stranger asked me why I was wearing a mask outdoors. What should I have told her?
A. This is what Salas calls “a nosy question.” She said your reply should follow an evasive route such as ”I have personal reasons” or “It makes me feel secure” and leave it at that.
“You do not need to provide details, such as a family member has cancer and therefore, I need to be extra cautious,” she said.
Q. What is the best way to ask people entering my house if they are vaccinated?
A. Decide on your house rules beforehand and stick with them, Fowler said.
“Before someone enters your home, you have to decide your comfort level about whether they are vaccinated or not,” she said. “It is your home and your health you are concerned with.”
The key, she said, is to be polite.
“It comes down to how you ask,” she said. “Remember to never come across in an accusatory tone. Be gracious in your asking.”
“If you are planning to have a small group of friends over and would like to invite only fully vaccinated couples, then ask them at the time you invite them. Ask in private; don’t put people on the spot in front of others,” she said.
“Watch your tone of voice. Choose your words wisely and don’t be judgmental,” Salas said. “I suggest you start by explaining why you desire to know: ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, but my family and I are fully vaccinated and are trying to start gathering with those that are also.’ Depending on the reply, you can decide whether to go ahead with the invite or not.”
If people are arriving at your house without a mask, keep a box handy by the front door and offer them one, Fowler said. If you are still uncomfortable, meet them outside your front door to visit or have a conversation with them.
Q. I am invited to a wedding that will have more than 100 people. I am not sure whether to go. What kinds of questions should I ask that will ease my fears but still be respectful of the hosts?
A. It’s actually the responsibility of the bride and groom to provide COVID information that gives the guests peace of mind, Salas said. Still, feel free to ask questions, such as: Are they requiring fully vaccinated guests and if so, do they require proof? Will they require testing for the unvaccinated? Will they require masks?
“These are valid questions for you to ask if the information has not been provided with the invitation,” she said.
There are several new wedding trends that may reassure you, including smaller and well-spaced tables and open seating that allows guests to sit with family members instead of strangers.
Q. I would like to return to church but my church does not have a mask mandate and I’m concerned people will be unvaccinated. I really miss it and would like to figure out a way to go and be comfortable. Should I discuss this with my pastor? Anyone else I should talk to? Or should I just make my own decision?
A. Salas said this is one of the biggest challenges many of us are facing.
“Many COVID guidelines for services of any religion are dictated from their hierarchy and there is very little a local pastor can do,” she said. “Here your personal concern has to be the deciding factor. If you do not feel comfortable attending in person, what you must remember is that your attending a service in a virtual format from your home does not indicate any loss of faith. On the contrary, this should confirm to you that God is in whatever form you believe in, transcends any physical building or gathering and that worship can take place anywhere.”
Q. With the holidays approaching, I’m concerned that several of my family members who are unvaccinated will want to join us at our family gatherings. Is it OK to tell them they are not welcome if they are not vaccinated? Is it OK to make specific rules for them if I decide they can come, like they must stay outside or must maintain a social distance?
A. It’s essential to figure out your priorities for the upcoming holiday season and make it clear at the outset what the rules of your house will be this year, Fowler said.
“You have to decide what your comfort level is with the exposure. If you are uncomfortable with them attending, your option is to let them know how you are feeling about the situation,” she said. “Let them know what the rules will be for your home and ask if they are OK with that. Make sure you let them know how much you want to have them there and are excited to have everyone together. Also, let them know you are concerned about everyone’s safety. Let them know you hope they understand. If they refuse the mask rule, then it’s up to you to decide any other parameters.”
The key is to be civil and aware that you are communicating with people you love during a difficult time, she said.
“Never make your response a personal attack on another’s beliefs concerning the virus,” she said. “We each have made our own decisions about our health. Thank the other person if an invitation is extended. Focus on the positive and make plans for a future date if possible.”
Have a question about etiquette during COVID-19? Email Lois Solomon at AskLois@sunsentinel.com.