It doesn’t matter how conditions change or what new technology enters our lives, people will always find ways to be rude. Same is true for a deadly global pandemic. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have protected us from the obnoxiousness of others, as well as a certain obnoxious virus. But when we have to put our lives in danger by going outside, we can’t avoid the rudeness.
We know that we have to keep six feet (two meters) apart from each other. But people have varying interpretations about what “six feet” actually means. My first experience with this was when I waited in line to pick up food from our favorite barbecue restaurant. The person behind me was from a delivery service—the one person you would expect to know better about social distancing. But he kept creeping closer behind me, as if it would speed up the line. I had to shoot him a few nasty stares before he backed off.
Grocery stores are worse. We act as if we were in invisible six-foot-radius bubbles trying not to bump into each other. Stores are trying to help by designating one-way aisles. Most people ignore the signs. So we find ourselves leaning towards the shelves precariously stacked with glass jars and bottles to avoid people walking the other way.
We must contend with those who stop in the middle of the aisle. Usually, they’ve pulled out their smartphones (yes, those things again) and decided this is the perfect time to chat. Meanwhile, the rest of us are stacked behind them wondering if we should endanger ourselves by trying to go around them.
The rule of grocery stores in a pandemic is to get in and out as quickly as possible. It should be the rule all the time.
In California, people are good about wearing a mask and gloves in public. What people forget is that you’re supposed to throw your gloves away before you get back in the car. (We don’t want to take our microscopic friends with us.) Pro tip: Throw your gloves away in a trashcan. Not on the ground. Not left in the cart. In the trashcan. And a pro tip for stores: Put a trashcan next to where people return their carts in the parking lot. (I’m looking at you, Costco.)
Big corporations do the rudest thing of all. These companies keep running TV ads praising our healthcare workers, grocery store and restaurant employees, transit workers, and others on the front line during this pandemic as heroes. And they are. So why don’t you take the money you spent on the ads to give them hazard pay? And adequate personal protective equipment? (Like the pharmacist who handled prescriptions with a broken glove, and the store clerks with homemade masks while customers wore new N95s.) Why not give them paid sick leave so they don’t feel they have to go to work when they’re ill? And perhaps we should rethink the whole concept of tying healthcare to employment so people can still be covered for testing and treatment even if they’ve lost their jobs. Somber voiceovers, soft piano music, and photos of exhausted doctors and nurses won’t make people safe.
If there’s ever a time for courtesy, it’s now. We face a difficult present and uncertain future. We need to be our best selves, to show kindness and respect to those who are working hard during this pandemic, and exercise more patience with each other. A pandemic is no time for rudeness.