There are some people who never think about social norms. They just instinctively know what to do in various situations, and they are always in tune with the “unwritten rules” of the situation, without even being aware that there are unwritten rules. For them, it’s just what you do.
I am not one of those people.
I have to study the human race as if I am an anthropologist. I have often been assigned to teach social skills classes throughout my teaching career and I love it because it is an opportunity for my students and me to compare notes and learn together! And moving from rural, Northern Michigan to the Houston/Galveston area has provided my brain with plenty of social skills learning opportunities.
In Michigan, if you are on time, you are late. Down here, it completely depends on the situation. You get to yoga at least 15 minutes early. You arrive at work on time, on the dot. Leisure activities have a lot more flexibility.
In Michigan, you get straight to the point in your interactions. Down here, if you don’t chat a little bit (but not too much), you are rude.
In both places, if you are hosting, your guests will appreciate it if you ask about their specific dietary needs. In Michigan your guests will tell you (and they will have specific needs). Down here, they will tell you that they have no special eating needs (even though they do!).
In Michigan, you do not talk about race–to do so would be rude. Down here, using race as a descriptive characteristic or in other flattering (or at least non-offensive) ways is perfectly acceptable.
In Michigan, students make a sign language “t” for “toilet” when they need to use the facilities, which are called the “bathroom.” Down here, students sign “r” for “restroom” and refer to the facilities by the same name.
In both places, if you meet someone with differing political views, you both talk about how you deviate from your preferred party and try to find common ground.
In both states, the first person to the door, opens it. And it is always a race to be that person!
We have successfully crashed parties in both locations. Just bring something to share!
So, enter the Rona.
Right away, we were faced with some new, emerging unwritten rules. Some people were extremely cautious from the beginning, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with this weird virus that humankind had never before experienced. Some people were comfortable retaining the risk and just wanted to live their lives as normally as possible. The rest of us fell somewhere in the middle.
Texas reopened very quickly, with in-person classes available at every school, so I re-entered pandemic society more quickly than people in other areas. But of course during all of this, people still spanned the spectrum with their comfort levels. I have friends who are just starting to leave their homes now, friends who we hugging and going maskless a year ago, and the rest of us, in the middle.
Here were some of the unwritten rules that evolved during the Rona:
Follow the lead of the most cautious person in the engagement. My friends who were going to indoor restaurants would eat outdoors with me. And I would meet for Facetime chats or quick parking lot gift exchanges with friends who preferred that.
Ask before hugging, and don’t take it personally if the answer is, “Sorry, no.”
Wear your mask by default, but it is okay to take it off (if you want) if everyone else isn’t wearing theirs.
Put on your mask if someone comes into the room wearing theirs.
Wear your mask while in indoor public places.
Socially distance, whether your mask is on or not.
The rules all made sense, and then we got Ronavax…
Schools are very cut-and-dry about the rules for masks. On our campus, they were required for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, then optional starting June 4. Most businesses have also made masks optional. If there is a sign on the door stating otherwise, we always make sure to wear ours when we first walk through the door, then we take them off if other people are not wearing theirs.
The confusing part is when there is no sign. I was recently reprimanded for not wearing a mask into a store with not visible sign. This was more embarrassing for me than it should have been, because I felt like I should have known the rules when I clearly did not.
Well, at any rate, this will be a new, interesting chapter in the stories we tell our grandchildren one day!