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May 6, 2021

Window on the World Column | The New Normal

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

They say that when you do — or don’t do — something consistently for three weeks, it becomes your new habit. I’ve tried to practice that theory various times in my life, such as a new exercise or diet regime. There is something to it. It has taken me quite a bit longer to change the manners of a lifetime.

In a “normal” world, you meet someone new; you shake their hand by way of introducing yourself to them and vice versa. If you know someone well; upon seeing them again, you hug them. Those are the manners I learned when I was young (truthfully, the hugging came later; that was more of an American adoption).

Since the introduction of Covid into our modern world, people no longer shake hands and they certainly don’t hug, unless you live in each other’s bubble, in which case the odds are, you are so completely sick of being around them, you don’t feel like hugging them. In the business world, I have become accustomed to either a brief nod, upon greeting, or no mannerism at all; whereas before, a handshake was a customary and telling symbol of what that person was like. A strong warm hand was indicative of that person’s character. Cold and weak likewise. Overwhelming, ditto. It would now be very strange if we went back to how it was pre-2020.

I took my friend to lunch for her birthday — the first time in several months we had eaten together. I naturally went to give her a hug — she’s my friend, we were both masked — she shied away from me and offered an elbow nudge by form of a greeting and later a kick goodbye. That was weird.

At another friend’s drive-thru baby shower, I had no idea what to expect; 2 to 4 p.m., the invitation read. Normally you would play baby games and then eat a lot. No one is invited into the house these days. The shower was held in front of the house with a table for the gifts, a chair for the mother-to-be and nice little plants as shower gifts for the guests. Not a chair in sight, no food or drink offered. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. I greeted the folks I knew, chatted with the baby mama and dad and hurriedly left. That is no criticism of the event at all; I just didn’t know what to expect and I felt unusually awkward.

As we work through our new normal, I imagine we will eventually get invited into people’s homes or offered a bottled water at least when we show up, vaccinated, to their parade; but I think humans are quietly embracing this new state of affairs, where gatherings are small — if allowed at all (30 people max allowed at my friend’s funeral, which left no seats for any friends, only family).

No more the outlandish gatherings of all your best friends, lest you forget and offend someone, at least for the coming months. I could have done with some of those rules at my wedding a hundred years ago when people just kept inviting themselves, the price per plate kept rising and my husband and I had to sell the classic car to afford it all — 30 of our most fave people would have been a much more manageable affair.

I have not had even a head cold in the past several months. Not shaking hands with people, hugging or sharing air space, I believe, has strongly contributed to that. In the past I used to have at least one honker a season to put me in bed for a couple of days. I am now a bit of a fanatic about carrying hand sanitizer with me. If I can’t soap and rinse my hands, I want to have at least a layer of security against germs until I can get to hot water. I don’t think that will change.

At one point at the very beginning of the pandemic, hand sanitizer was up there with toilet paper and paper towels in the rarest of items. Now the sanitizing manufacturing base has hit their stride and begun to enjoy their new popularity, there is no reason for any of us not to be armed with that magic stuff at all times. Check any lady’s bag these days and you can guarantee to uncover at least a pack of wipes or a bottle of sanitizer.

It’s become a funny old world, hasn’t it! Staying at a hotel recently, I noticed that service had gone sideways with the arrival of Corona. You valet your own car and bags; collect any fresh towels you might need. No one will come into your room while you are there. The restaurant is self-service or takeout only. You do wonder if that will ever go back to how it was.

I honestly don’t need my bed to be made or my towels to be changed after a night or so. I can quite easily use the valet cart myself and yet I do feel sorry for all those hotel workers who might stand in line for the few service jobs that will be available once the population starts moving again and staying in hotels. The cost of the employee might just be another victim of Corona that the hotels decide they don’t need anymore.

One thing I am very anxious about is that our children get back to the classroom. That has to go back to how it was. My 6-year-old granddaughter has never known anything except distance learning, but she is not doing as well as she would in the classroom. She needs to start learning the social skills of a school setting, she needs to be able to play group sports and be disciplined by her teachers.

When my husband and I were informed that our vaccinations would be set back because of the need to get all the educators vaccinated in our area; I happily stepped back for that. Friends of mine have communicated how their kids are suffering with depression and mood swings and that lockdown is weighing very heavily on their social skills.

Let’s hope as the dust settles and we all become vaccinated, the new normal will see the children back in the classrooms and on the sports fields. I hope that there is a resurgence in customer service jobs and an anxiety to get out of the house. Other Corona gifts like hand shaking and hugs may, perhaps, take a bit longer to recover, if they ever do. I think I’m OK with that.

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