The new politeness was the old rudeness

My daily walk around the neighborhood is along a narrow path. A couple of days ago, as I was walking I saw a woman coming towards me. As she got near, she stepped off the path and went and stood 10 feet away on the grass as I went by. We smiled and waved at each other without exchanging a word. It struck me that this kind of avoidance would have been considered very rude just a few weeks ago, as is the case when people sometimes cross the street to avoid passing near someone they think of as undesirable and wish to avoid, but was now the polite and considerate thing to do.

I also for the first time bought groceries without going into the store. I ordered online to be picked up at a designated time, and waited in the parking lot of the supermarket while someone brought the groceries and put them in the trunk. The only physical interaction was that he gave me a clipboard for me to sign a paper that I had received the stuff. I asked him if it was ok to give him a tip, given that we are asked to avoid giving cashiers money so as to minimize contact and I did not want to embarrass him if he did not want to touch it. He (a teenager) smiled and said that he never turned down free money so I gave it to him.

Strange times indeed.

This period of isolation has also resulted in some creative people channeling their talents into new areas such as this coronavirus-inspired version of Bohemian Rhapsody that was sent to me by a friend.


  1. Marshall says

    Just went for a run and experienced just this, although it was usually me avoiding others (and imagining I was being polite, although many people are stupidly not even considering social distancing).

  2. robert79 says

    I’ve had some weird experiences with this. Last week I was walking on a fairly narrow path between a hedge and a canal. A couple in their 50s was walking towards me. At about 10 meters I’d already moved to the right, walking in the grass instead of the pavement which I thought would be a clear indication I intended to respect distance.

    They practically jumped into the bushes and asked me to keep their distance… I was a bit flabbergasted, as moving further to the right would involve risking falling into the canal.

  3. publicola says

    If you want to read about extreme social distancing, there is a chapter in Asimov’s novel “Foundation and Earth” titled “Solaria”. Think we have it bad? It can always be worse. The ironic thing here is that since the advent of online gaming and communication, we have already been practicing a form of psychological social distancing. Covid-19 just adds a physical element to it.

  4. Steve Morrison says

    @4: That culture was originally developed in Asimov’s earlier novel The Naked Sun.

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