How to behave in 2023 – the new rules of modern living post-lockdown

You need a guide. Here’s how to navigate the new normal
You need a guide. Here’s how to navigate the new normal

It was three years ago today that Boris Johnson appeared on television to make the announcement. “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” he said. Thus began perhaps the strangest period in modern history, two years that upended existing social norms and created new ones.

While some behaviours have reverted, others seem changed forever. You need a guide. Here’s how to navigate the new normal.

Drivers hate cyclists. Cyclists also hate drivers, pedestrians hate e-scooters, e-scooters hate scooting where they’re meant to.

Another purpose for the mask. There’s no quicker way to ensure a comfortable exclusion zone around you on public transport than wearing a mask. Also useful for when you’re hungover at the office, or spot an annoying old university friend on the train before they spot you.

Don’t sit down on public transport unless you definitely need to. There are all kinds of reasons people might need to sit down. If you can, stand up. It also makes it easier to discreetly move away from a sneezer.

Book taxis. It’s not entirely clear why (The cost of living? Something to do with the unions? They all retrained as coders?), but taxis are rarer and more expensive now, whether you’re stuck at a rural wedding or trying to get across the city. Book in advance, or you’re dancing with jeopardy.

Manage expectations. If someone is visiting you for the weekend and arriving by long-distance train, understand that there is a 97 per cent chance you will not see them that weekend. Or they will at least be several hours late. Especially if they require the help of Arriva. This is Britain.

If you’re texting and walking, you have to also look where you are going. Remember: accidental human contact is a fierce no-no these days. You can lower the chance of this by looking up.

No good will come of snooping on your partner’s phone. Phones are sacred spaces, receptacles for information that should be kept between you and your God, like how much time you spend on the BBC Sport app, or how interested you are in Gwyneth Paltrow. Everyone’s weird on their phone.

Separate beds are fine. As we became more conscious of personal hygiene, it was clear that “sleeping in the same bed” was a practice that only came about because urbanising workers couldn’t afford separate beds. However, sleep with your partner once in a while. You never know, it might be a laugh.

Respect self-improvement. Over the past three years, we have all been tempted by personal development. Parkrun. Lifting heavy weights. Dabbling with veganism. No, it might not last, but that’s no reason not to support it. I’m going for a jog, please don’t laugh.

Respect home improvement. If you’re a man: always agree automatically to any home improvements your wife wants. It just saves time.

To save time, agree to any home improvements your wife wants - Barton /Digital Vision
To save time, agree to any home improvements your wife wants - Barton /Digital Vision

Tweakments are everywhere. Your mate comes back from Turkey with his hairline in fine shape. Your husband suddenly becomes mysteriously wrinkle-free. You needn’t pass comment: simply enjoy living in a world where people are spending time and money trying to look better for you, the person observing them.

Don’t assume anyone on a dating app is single. Examine people’s profiles carefully. Buried between the picture of them at Glastonbury and the prompt about how they’re looking for a girl who is “equally comfortable in a hotel as they are in a tent” there will be a hint that they practise ENM (ethical non-monogamy).

Don’t kiss to say hello. The kiss-greeting, never a natural fit for reserved Brits, has become much less common. There was a brief spell when elbow bumping looked like it was going to become a thing (see Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel bumping) but it turned out to be a pandemic fad. Everyone gets a handshake these days. It’s democratic.

Plates will be small forever. If you’re sharing, order in a shareable way: a croquette each, no soup – and don’t take more than your fair share.

Be polite – plates will be small forever and it's nice to share - Thomas Lotter /Alamy Stock Photo
Be polite – plates will be small forever and it's nice to share - Thomas Lotter /Alamy Stock Photo

You may check your phone once per hour. Ideally not mid-conversation – take your chance when your dining companions have got up to go to the toilet. Be confident about it – no sneaky looks under the table, people will wonder what you are up to.

Splitting the bill. It’s always going to be a bit unfair but accept this – no one likes the pedant trying to do elaborate algebra to work out who had more wine. If you’re splitting the bill with Monzo or another app, ensure everything is redeemed before you stand up from the table. You can’t moan about bank transfer times and then wait nine hours to pay back your friend for what you estimate to have been your fair contribution to the cheese plate.

Don’t fake food allergies. Have you noticed how much more common “allergies” are in millennials and below than they are in the over-60s? Do not claim a dairy “intolerance” that makes an exception for pudding. Preferring not to eat so much bread is not the same thing as being coeliac. That said, vegetarianism is here to stay. Don’t be an arse about it.

French exits are fine. Nobody likes anyone to make a big show of leaving. You disrupt conversation and make everyone else wonder if they ought to go too. If you’re an average guest, nobody will care if you leave. If you’re a high-value guest (famous, notorious, rich or especially beautiful) your exit will diminish the party, so why do it?

There's a hierarchy of thank yous: written, email, text, spoken, none. Only the first three are acceptable as thank-yous. Everything is better than none. The same goes for condolences.

Don’t lend a book and expect it back. It’s Lessons in Chemistry, not an illuminated Bible. Let it go or get a new one.

Whatsapp voice-notes. They are only acceptable if they would be worthy of broadcast, even if only on Radio 4. Anything longer than two minutes should be considered a podcast and subject to the same regulation. If you are trying to arrange something, don’t use a large, sprawling Whatsapp group – you will only end up hating everyone in it.

There's more phone etiquette. Never show someone a video on your phone longer than 10 seconds.

Emojis are not what they were. If you must use a little picture instead of words, you have a duty to make sure it’s exceptionally well chosen. Some, like the aubergine and the poo, ought to be retired from service (see Elon Musk sending the latter liberally as an autoreply from Twitter’s press office).

Pick your emojis wisely
Pick your emojis wisely

New meanings: “Lol” has been devalued through overuse to the point that it is basically an insult. If you want to convey genuine mirth, you have to use “ha” at least three times and preferably many more.

There is more to life than the pub. The pubs being closed reminded us how much we love pubs, but also opened our eyes to the possibility of other activities. 8. If someone suggests meeting for a walk, or going sailing, or playing Settlers of Catan, don’t laugh. You might learn something, even if it’s that you don’t like sailing.

Don’t ask someone where they’re really from. You already knew this.

Dogs are not people. A lot of people got pets who shouldn’t have. The result is a generation of poorly behaved cats and dogs, many of which seem to be under the impression they are human children. Owners: don’t assume others love dogs like you do.

Don’t mind about pronouns. Manners are about putting everyone at ease. Language evolves. If people feel strongly about their pronouns, why not respect them? It’s painless.

Be selective about holidays. Gone are the days of popping off to Dubrovnik for a day. Holidaying has gone back 50 years: it is more difficult, expensive and unpredictable than it was. Whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s a trip you really want to do, with people you like. Related: stags and hens should last no more than one night, and everyone can make their own travel arrangements.

Cancel culture is on the decline. Not that kind, that one’s still hale and hearty. But Covid forever changed the rules of cancelling social events. It is no longer OK to back out of plans at 30 seconds’ notice by simply sending a photograph you found on Google Images of a positive lateral flow test. That said, even after a short post-pandemic period in which we all pretended it was the Roaring Twenties and went to 16 weddings a day, a certain flakiness has remained. The rule? If it’s a big group thing at which your attendance makes little difference to the bill, noon on the day is your deadline. But if money’s being spent on you – tickets, a seat at dinner, a weekend away – you only have until at least two and a half days prior, which is enough time for them to replace you. Even then you’d better grovel. NB: If you actually have Covid, please do cancel.

If you double-book, watch your friends’ phones. It’s not a fantastic look, cancelling on Book Club because you’re sure you have norovirus, then appearing in your friend’s Instagram Stories downing a pint of wine in the smoking area of Wetherspoons. To be absolutely safe, enforce a no-photos rule from the outset, or be like DiCaprio and ban phones at the door.

If you have a cold, stay at home. But the rules are different for children. The pandemic showed us the absolute value of our schools and nurseries. Children are inherently snotty: if they all stayed home at the first dribble, nobody would ever learn anything and the country would fall apart. Also, a spot of Covid is no longer enough to dodge your childcare.

You can email or text in meetings, but no social media. The price of this new freedom is that you have to be paying just enough attention to answer when called on.

Know how to work the tech. The “you’re on mute” banter was cute in spring 2020, but in 2023 not being able to operate a Zoom is like not knowing how to operate a kettle.

Know the limit. Any meeting that lasts longer than 15 minutes is a waste of everyone’s time.

Ban business casual. You can look smart in casual clothes and casual in smart clothes, but whatever else you do, you must avoid business casual. Jacket, white shirt, fitted jeans, “smart trainers”? No.

Don’t email at night. Working in bed, without trousers on, is fine now. But use “schedule send” to avoid panicking your colleagues at antisocial hours.

For dinner parties, only cook one course. Your friends haven’t come to watch you chop and stir; they haven’t really come for the food at all. Let at least one (ideally two) courses be assembly jobs, then cook something hearty for the main. Shop-bought pudding is fine.

No judgment on drinking.  As Plato said, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind and don’t judge their recycling bin too harshly. The nihilism of lockdown meant a glass of wine with lunch was fine; sometimes even breakfast, too. That said, always have at least one non-alcoholic beer in the fridge This is the future. When people say they are not drinking, that doesn’t give you the excuse to offer them one of the kids’ Fruit Shoots, or that old can of coke you keep stashed in the condiments cupboard as an emergency hangover cure; or “… Milk? I could do you a nice pint of milk?”

As Plato said, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind and don’t judge their recycling bin too harshly - E+
As Plato said, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind and don’t judge their recycling bin too harshly - E+

Instagram finds. If you notice something in someone’s house that looks like they bought it after being inspired by Instagram, don’t say anything. It’s hard to be original.

Invite the unexpected. If being stuck at home with our nearest and dearest taught us anything, it’s the value of new people. Encourage random visitors: friends of friends, someone you just met. Yes, they might be awful, but that will be a story.

Banned conversation topics. Brexit; J K Rowling; podcasts; how you vote; Glastonbury; Gary Lineker; cryptocurrency; Jeremy Clarkson; strikes of any kind; Harry and Meghan; cycling; ULEZ. And above all: the pandemic.

Either drink a bit of something quality, or a lot of something bargain bin. By all means open your beloved Chateau Latour 2011 and offer everybody a thimble, but how are you going to follow it? These days you can find delicious wines in Aldi, and you no longer have to preface it with, “Would you believe, it’s from Aldi! I know!” – you can just serve bottle after bottle, knowing nobody cares where it’s from and the bill hasn’t bankrupted you.

Don’t be a person who only talks about television. There is too much TV now. No one can watch it all. Your friends do not simply have to watch Succession.

But don’t be a person who cannot talk about television. You are not better than us for not having heard of The Traitors. You do not automatically get culture points for saying, “Honestly, I just don’t know how you find the time to know the difference between Graham Norton and James Norton …”

What do you think should be added to the etiquette guide for 2023? Tell us in the comments below