'Sending a virtual hug!' Scottish government's advice on awkward pandemic social situations

·3-min read
Friendly smiling millennial diverse female colleagues keeping social distance, greeting each other by bumping elbows instead of hugs or handshaking, preventing covid 19 coronavirus infection spread.
The Scottish government has released a coronavirus etiquette guide. (Getty)

The Scottish government has released an etiquette guide for dealing with awkward situations related to coronavirus restrictions ahead of the festive season.

Titled The COVID Guide To Etiquette... and Pandemic Politeness, the guide is designed to “support anyone who may struggle with challenging or awkward social situations” when interacting with other people under rules to stop the virus from spreading.

It says 80% of people in Scotland have felt awkward when trying to follow rules such as mask-wearing and social distancing and that most have worried about appearing rude or hurting someone’s feelings.

It suggests tactful solutions to situations where people feel uncomfortable with reminding others of restrictions, and says framing what you say as an offer rather than a request can help reduce tension.

Watch: Coronavirus close to being back under control in Scotland, says Sturgeon

For instance, if you see a colleague in a coffee shop and they take off their mask to speak to you, you could offer an explanation and an alternative by saying: “Let’s catch up outside? Where there’s space to keep a wee distance.”

And if someone goes in for a hug, you can say: “I so want to hug you! But I guess we have to wait until it’s safe. I don’t want to risk harming you or anyone else you are in contact with.

“I’m giving you a virtual hug.”

Here are some more scenarios from the guide that may require a tactful reminder about restrictions:

Someone sits too close to you on public transport

If someone is too close to you on public transport, try making a polite offer with care...

“I’m happy to move if that’s easier for you?”

The rules are there to protect us all, so if the person becomes confrontational it’s OK to report it to the nearest staff member.

A sign advising people to stay two metres apart on a lamppost in the centre of Bradford, West Yorkshire, one of the areas where new measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Stricter rules have been introduced for people in Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire, banning members of different households from meeting each other indoors.
A sign advising people to social-distance. (PA)

Someone in public isn’t adhering to a two-metre distance

A stranger is standing too close to you in the supermarket and isn’t keeping a two-metre distance.

Moving yourself away will remove the need for you to say something. Remember that the person may not realise they’re too close or have forgotten the guidance. If you still need to say something, give them a friendly reminder.

“I’ll step back and give you some space – it’s tricky in busy spaces to keep to two metres apart, isn’t it?”

Social distancing signs and Christmas decorations in Covent Garden, London, as as England continues a four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Picture date: Tuesday November 24, 2020. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
Social-distancing signs and Christmas decorations in Covent Garden, London. (PA)

Declining an offer from a friend when guidance isn’t being followed

It’s OK to politely decline an offer to do something if it’s a situation where the guidance isn’t being followed.

If a friend invites you to birthday drinks at their house, try providing a positive reason for declining and offer an alternative.

“I wouldn’t want to risk infecting you – that would be the worst birthday present ever. Let’s have a birthday zoom and plan a bigger celebration when it’s safe to get together.”

A family member is way too close when you meet outside for a walk

They may not have realised they are so close, and often a subtle reminder may be all that is needed. Try to take a step back, and if needed say something to show it is being done out of care.

“Sorry I know this is a bit odd isn’t it, having to stay apart, I’ll just move back a little and that’ll keep us right.”

Watch: The COVID dos and don’ts of Christmas this year