We know it will be over soon, all this excessive hand-washing and people-avoiding and restaurant-eschewing and party-ignoring and vaccine-hoping.
And those of us who have stayed home for the duration have one worry. Will we have to relearn social graces all over again, like patients relearn how to walk after a surgery?
Would the long periods of isolation drive out of us the element that distinguishes us from the lower animals: the ability to say ‘Good Morning’ or inquire after the children of friends? Or the crucial faculty to get all autobiographical when someone asks, "How are you?" Will we still retain the skill to distinguish between the rhetorical and the literal?
There’s a telling scene in Gone With the Wind where Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara go for a walk. I think they have a baby in a pram too, but I don’t remember now. Butler keeps raising his hat to passing ladies and wishing total strangers "good day" till it irritates his companion who asks, "Why are you doing this?" The answer sums us what I am trying to say here: "Because we live in a society."
Good manners is a learnt activity that has been ingrained in us (or, most of us). Thank you, please, sorry, my fault, beg your pardon… you get the idea. But it can atrophy through lack of use like a muscle. Perhaps we need to keep saying good morning and how are you to our chairs and tables just to keep in touch. Practice will keep us from looking vulgar and boorish.
Working out of home clad in shorts and a T-shirt will be replaced by going out into the world and meeting actual people actually face to face (with or without masks) and looking into their actual eyes. What do you do? Knock elbows together or touch either end of a table simultaneously as a substitute for a hug? We need to sort such things out before we are caught out by reality.
The last party I attended was over a year ago, and I am still trying to make up my mind whether a good friend insulted me or not. Why is that important, you ask. Well, now that the vaccine is here and another party is just a few months away, I have to know whether to ignore this person or think up a searing insult that will reduce him to a small blotch on the carpet. Or I can accept that he really did remember an urgent appointment just as I said hello to him.
Good manners involve good lying too. No relationship has lasted where one has honestly answered the other’s question "Have I put on weight?"