Life Relationships A guide to coronavirus etiquette: Please sir, can you move six steps away?
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A guide to coronavirus etiquette: Please sir, can you move six steps away?

Somebody standing too close? A good sense of humour will get you by in most cases. Photo: Getty
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It’s all very well (and correct) for the Prime Minister to order his subjects to keep four square metres from one another when out and about – or perhaps when gathering somewhere in prayer.

But how do you go about telling some dazed soul just wandering in the street to back the hell off without causing wretched disquiet?

The fact is, it’s important to make clear to anyone you almost bump into – while wandering the bad lands of Corona-ville – that you’re an existential threat to one another.

But how do you do it politely?

The Queen would probably know. But she’s locked away.

Almost as good is Ana Retallack, Victorian-based etiquette coach and formerly a governess of protocols at Buckingham Palace, where she organised ceremonial events.

Ms Retallack, director of a school called The Standard Companion, says it’s completely acceptable to blame it all on Scott Morrison, as a light way of reminding the people around you that we’re meant to keep beyond spitting distance.

Ana Retallack, formerly of Her Majesty’s household, advises a sense of humour when preserving your personal space, and a Muslim greeting instead of a handshake or elbow bump. Photo: The Standard Companion

“It can be awkward,” said Ms Retallack, who also spent 12 years in the British Royal Navy.

“But you have to be quite resolved. Especially if your health is already compromised … it is important you keep that distance.

“But as with most things in life, a little bit of humour does help everyone relax a little.

“So you might, you know, humorously suggest that maybe we should be doing what what Sco-Mo tell us: Operating that one and a half metre distance from one another.”

She suggest this approach “neutralises what it is that you want”.

“Instead of you sounding like ‘Me, me, me: Get out of my space, I don’t want to risk anything’, it sort of deflects the opinion that people may have of you and puts it back on the person who’s effectively governing our country. It’s slightly tongue in cheek.”

Or if you’re too on anxious to be a comedian, Ms Retallack says to play it very straight: “I think it’s OK to say to people, ‘Would you mind: I’m being very careful about coming into contact with too many people’.”

More broadly though, Ms Retallack says we should, when venturing outside, walk around with a friendly smile on our face, and be prepared to make eye contact with people.

“It’s very important, we get so much from eye contact,” she said.

“The first thing you get back is that warmth and friendliness, but the second and more important thing is the trust element. If you can get someone’s eye contact, you feel that you can trust them.”

What about these elbow bumps and foot taps that were being weirdly recommended in place of a handshake?

Surely they border on bad manners by making everyone look like idiots?

Mr Retallack isn’t keen on them at all.

For one thing they would obviously bring us into closer contact than is recommended. Secondly, “It’s bizarre,” she said.

“Personally, I’m more operating more along the Muslim line.”

By this she means, that when “greeting someone in the public domain, immediately place your right hand (your shaking hand) across your chest, so it sits just below your left-hand shoulder, and give a respectful nod”.

“It’s a very respectful way to say you’re acknowledging that person.”

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