Re-Opening Etiquette

I am engaging more people in close proximity outdoors without masks. When guests come to our homes, masks come off. I am now calling ahead to restaurants and coffee shops: “Have you opened up your indoor dining area yet?” And when scheduling committee meetings and other small groups, the question is now arising: virtual or in-person?

Re-opening is becoming real as state and county restrictions ease up, more and more people at ever younger ages get vaccinated, and the risk of contracting COVID in many if not most settings becomes marginal for the average adult. Proper social etiquette is a moving target. It will continue to move as a majority of the population becomes vaccinated.

So, how do we know how to relate socially? In particular:

• Do we wear masks outside? Under what circumstances?
• Do we wear masks with close friends? Just outside or inside as well?
• Is cleaning surfaces still a ‘thing’ or are we done with that?
• Do we greet by standing apart, giving a fist bump, a handshake, or a hug? To whom?
• Are we getting on planes now? How much travel is safe?
• What about those long-overdue funerals and weddings? How many in a gathering is socially acceptable?

As I said many months ago, just as each municipality has its own re-opening timeline and protocol, so it is with each family and each individual. And frankly, it has much less to do with science and much more to do with intuition.

Personally, I lean on the more open side: wearing masks much less, inviting guests in small groups at home, greeting with handshakes and hugs, getting on planes, pushing for in-person committee meetings. But I know there are plenty of friends and family on the less open side and they are perfectly entitled to their own protocols which may not be the same as mine. I have no right to judge (even though I regret to admit I do silently sometimes).

How do we proceed as friends, co-workers, associates, and even acquaintances?

With lots of grace.

Grace is the grease that lubricates the otherwise jarring differences in protocol that we will invariably bump up against in the next several months between differing intuitions and changing circumstances.

We had guests over last night. They walked in. They saw shoes neatly arranged near our door. They asked, “should we take our shoes off?” I said, “it’s optional; totally up to you.” They removed their shoes. I noticed we did not have masks on and they did. I asked, “would you prefer we put our masks on?” They said, “it’s your house; you can do what you want!” I said, “OK, in that case, if you feel comfortable, you are welcome to take your masks off.” They did. We had a wonderful dinner together.


May grace abound in your home and in all the places you frequent as we accommodate others and their comfort levels and together navigate this in-between time.


  1. Kevin says

    Great post, Norm. Yes, grace is much-needed always, but perhaps now we are more aware of it than ever. While I’m ready to be fully open, not everyone is, and if we can make space in society for each person’s preferred level of interaction, we will do well. I’m glad your family enjoyed a great night of both unmasked faces and feet with some other folks!

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