Social…..What? — by JC Staff

How quickly we adopt new vocabulary, how readily it becomes everyday parlance.
This time last month, the term “social distancing” probably meant something very strange to our population here in the UK, it even sounds self-contradictory. Now, ten days into our “lockdown” as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping our globe, the words roll off our tongues. Loosely defined, “social distancing” is a strategy being encouraged in our society to slow the spread of the virus. People who are not living in the same dwelling as each other, must maintain a distance of 2 metres or 6 feet between themselves and others when out in public.
Our time out in public is now largely restricted – only one session of outdoor exercise per person per day, and only essential travel permitted. For example, a trip to the grocery store for essential items would be considered essential travel. A drive to a local beauty spot to walk the dog would not. Wine is being widely contested as an essential item in these long days of “self-isolation” (another new concept that we all have become rapidly familiar with.)

Photo by jcstaff

So, out for a run this morning, I started to think about social-distancing and the tensions it creates. Yesterday, I read a ranting long message on social media about how people are not all doing their part to socially distance, and who should cross onto the road to allow whom to have the pavement etc. It was met with a torrent of equally ranty comments in support of the original post – disappointingly judgemental, but intriguing responses. I began considering the “Unwritten Rules” in relation to this whole social distancing thing, and you may not feel surprised to know, it seems rather complex….

I thought perhaps it might be helpful to create a little guide, not to social distancing, because I don’t make up the rules – written or unwritten. Just a guide to flag up the many facets of the term “social distancing” and what it may be helpful to consider the next time you step out of your front door – for essential travel purposes only, of course.

1. First of all, the actual acceptable physical distance. Who carries around a meter stick? Yeah, not many of us. Saying that, accurately guessing what 2 meters actually looks like is probably not in most of our skills sets. Even less so, guess-timating visually a space of 6 feet. So perhaps some people who appear to be not making much effort to create distance are really trying after all, and they are merely not actually certain what 2 meters really looks like?….

2. The grocery store is so tricky, a social-distancing gauntlet of sorts. Queuing to get in seems easy enough. People are leaving at least 2 metres, if not even an ample 8-10 between themselves and the person in front of them. The queue is controlled at the door by an often-burly security guard who permits entry on a ‘one out, one in’ basis ensuring there is only a set, safe number of customers in the store at anytime. You may want to bundle up if the weather is inclement. So all that works efficiently enough. The difficulty surfaces inside the store. Let’s say someone is in front of all the cheese trying to make a decision. You need to stand across the aisle, watching them, waiting, while trying to hide your mild impatience, even though you just need to grab that pack of light mozzerella balls to the right of where they are standing….
But you must WAIT.
And you must hope that someone who cares a little less about social distancing doesn’t dive in there first as soon as the cheese chooser settles for Wensleydale and moves on! This raises a whole new set of grocery shopping protocols. I suggest a lot of eye contact and smiling to navigate the aisles safely and amicably. Oh, and don’t touch your face (…like, .who is honestly coping with that rule?)

3. Another thing is that some people seem unsure generally how to balance social distancing with social etiquette. Let’s face it, until the current pandemic began, the unwritten rule when out walking was that if you crossed the other side of the road to pass a stranger it was seen as rude, offensive and possibly left them feeling like a violent criminal. Now, people are more than fine to have you cross the road to go around them, they expect it. Speaking and acknowledgement are the new unwritten rules. As we are all fairly isolated, apart from social media and digital comms, it is pleasant to call out a friendly “hello” across the road to others out walking.

The first weekend of social-distancing, I ran onto the road to pass a mother and daughter who were out walking; they actually put their heads down as I passed calling a cheerful “Good morning”, as though the mother had declared “don’t make eye contact, whatever you do!” Now, realising opportunities for exchanged words are rare, people seem grateful for a smidge of non-familial human interaction across a street while on their one walk of the day.

4. Lastly, sorry people, it would seem the gender issue cannot be ignored.
Last week, a friend told me she thinks men are less likely to practice social-distancing than women. This sounds a little sexist perhaps, but after a few runs this week in my neighbourhood, I can somewhat confidently confirm this suggestion. I’ve had to cross the road a few times when it seemed evident that men were not bothered about doing their part to halt the spread of illness.

One man, running towards me on the pavement made no effort to leave the pavement, showing no intention of socially distancing. I guess I could have faked a cough, but no, instead I checked for traffic and then graciously ran into the road to go around him, allowing him to enjoy the pavement to himself. Then, get this – he didn’t even acknowledge I had moved for him, which I felt even more indignant about! How rude! I’m not sure if it is a macho sense of invincibility “I’m not afraid of a little virus” or if it is pure rule breaking, but it is annoying. Having discussed this with my husband, I was glad to hear he always leaves the path to pass other runners or walkers. Chivalry is not totally dead, then.

I hope this little guide has given you a few ideas to think about in relation to your own efforts towards “social distancing”. Even if it hasn’t, it has given us both something to do for a little while as a writer and a reader. If you are reading this blog long after the risk of COVID19 has passed, then I hope you and your loved ones stayed well, and I hope too that these times of distancing to avoid the transmission of the dangerous Coronavirus are long behind us all.
Because loneliness and isolation are dangerous, too.

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