News Coronavirus Same, same, just different: Australian etiquette in the age of coronavirus

Same, same, just different: Australian etiquette in the age of coronavirus

The elbow handshake ... it's a thing.
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There are very few rules of etiquette to take into account in Australia. Greetings Usually a simple ‘G’day’, smile or nod suffices when passing people. Australians expect a firm handshake with eye contact.
– Lonely Planet Guide to Australia

Throw out the guide book.

In the age of the coronavirus we may be still nodding at each other, but it’s now often done from the other side of the road – and no one is shaking hands.

In fact, there’s a case to be made that Australian etiquette has been dead for some years now given the catch cry “She’ll be right, mate” more often than not has turned into a sneering “I’m all right, mate”.

How else to explain the harrowing toilet paper wars of 2020 when panic-buying saw vulnerable members of society pushed aside in the rush to hoard lockdown essentials.

coles panic buying profit
A security guard in the toilet paper aisle at a Sydney supermarket. Photo: AAP

So, even though our social etiquette appears patchy at best, here’s a refresher on how to connect while you’re social distancing.

Stay in your lane … 

Remember the days when your mum would shoo you off the footpath onto the road, or at the very least push you in single file, if there was an old lady coming at you in the opposite direction?

That simple rule to stay on the left and leave your seniors space on the footpath seems to have completely skipped the most recent generations.

On the daily commute it is a minor annoyance when you see it. In the age of COVID-19, it’s out of order, dangerous and breaks all social distancing norms.

If you do see a friend, a smile and a wave will suffice until the government says we can return to elbow bumps again.

Home office teleconferencing …

The first rule is don’t turn up in your jocks – even if you have put that sticky note over the camera.

For all the rest the Tasmanian government has rolled out a little chapette called Doctor Digital to bring us all up to speed on how to connect and not disgrace.

Dr Digital says it’s important to not only dress for a work audience, but to remove personal items that might be in shot.

“Pyjamas and Ugg’s are awesome for smashing out a policy document on the run, but not presenting it to your senior management team on a videoconference,” says Doctor Digital.

Working from home has benefits and pitfalls. Photo: Getty 

“Good etiquette is to say howdy when you arrive into the videoconference, and then mute yourself when you aren’t speaking.

“Make this a habit and when your dog goes nuts at the arrival of a new grocery order or the children are simulating a world war for their remote history lesson you can be a smug silent oasis of calm.

“Turn up on time, so you can get your hellos over and mute yourself … Keep the meetings short and dynamic where possible. It is much easier to lose people’s attention when they aren’t physically in a room together.”

To mask or not to mask

The medical mask is fast becoming a controversial item. Should you wear one when in public or not?

Many Asian countries insist on wearing masks in public spaces, but so far in Australia it’s been an added extra for the COVID-19 aware.

That may be about to change as isolation restrictions are lifted, with some parts of the economy likely to open up only on the condition of masks being worn.

In the US, it is already compulsory on some airlines for masks to be worn and that could well extend to Australia once we all start travelling again.

Two women, one wearing a face mask and one not, with a question mark in the middle.
Should you wear a face mask? The advice differs around the world.

For the time being a good rule of thumb is, if a mask is offered at an establishment, put it on.

Once you are done, feel free to take it off and carry on your person until you can dispose of it hygienically.

The ups and downs of the lift …

Holding open the door of the elevator is one of Australia’s most welcome acts of etiquette.

It’s going to be much harder now when we all return to work.

Holding the lift open for someone is now fraught with danger.

Maybe they don’t want to join you in the enclosed space?

Maybe you don’t want them to join you?

Like most things, communication is the key. Ask if they’d like the lift held or want to wait for another.

Expect new rules and follow them.

In Canada health officials have started calling elevator etiquette a way of protecting “vertical communities” and there are new rules of only three people to an elevator and all must stand two metres apart.

Right on queue? 

Australians are pretty good at standing in line if it involves alcohol, food or footy tickets.

Beyond that, most usually say “Stuff it, let’s come back later”.

The coronavirus has made queues a necessity for some things and the lines are now even longer and spaced out, so be sure not to cut in just because there’s a yawning gap that looks like it could be filled.

The rule of thumb here is line up if it can’t be avoided, but don’t treat it like a social opportunity and lean in to those on either side. It’s not a footy line, so no camp chairs or thermos.

Queues are our biggest gripe when it comes to supermarket shopping, according to new research.
Queues are longer and more spaced out for your safety. Photo: Getty

Keep your distance, buy your stuff – throw some essentials to an older person in need – and go home.

The hanky … no! 

Cough into your elbow. Sneeze into your elbow. Blow your nose in a tissue and dispose of it thoughtfully.

A hanky? … Well, that really is a relic of old Australia.

The usual rules apply.

Urinating, spitting and snorting out the contents of your nose in public is not on … even if you are an NRL player on a team-bonding session.

A final tip on tipping …

Any good etiquette guide to Australia would once have said: “Nah mate, next time”.

But in this decade-long government program to turn Australia into a US-style low wage, gig economy – how’s that working out for everyone? – it means that tipping is becoming inescapable if you want good vibes.

Anyone with a streak of good old-fashioned egalitarianism will want to spread the good cheer in troubled times, particularly to the casual employees on the front lines of our service industries.

Don’t forget that restaurant delivery services gouge a huge take from your restaurant to deliver, so where possible order direct and walk to pick up your food.

If it is brought to the door, and the service is good, there’s usually a tip button on the major apps to reward the delivery person.