As Americans practice social distancing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, people are spending most of their time at home. Whether you’re in a crowded apartment building or a more spaced-out suburban area, this is a time to be especially mindful of neighbor etiquette.
“While it is always polite to consider how our actions may impact our neighbors, our behavior during a pandemic takes on increased importance,” Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, told HuffPost. “When we are morally obligated to stay home, we have so many unknowns and our stress levels are on high alert. What would have been a mere annoyance easily escalates into a major event.”
During this time, it’s important to have a heightened awareness of what you’re doing and how it affects those around you. With that in mind, HuffPost asked Smith and other etiquette experts to break down some of the rude neighbor behavior people will want to be mindful of.
Keep scrolling for nine faux pas to avoid amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as some guidance for good neighbor etiquette.
Disregarding Noise Levels
“Be aware of noise levels,” said Smith. “You might love to get up early and start your day with a Zoom Zumba class. Doing Zumba before dawn was fine when you went to the gym, but now that you are Zumba-ing at home, it may present a problem when your floor is someone else’s ceiling.”
Try to reduce the amount of noise you’re making, especially at very late and early hours. This applies to apartment buildings, as well as suburban homes.
“My boys are home from college and playing a lot of basketball. I make them stop by 8 p.m. because my neighbor can hear that constant hitting of the rim. The same goes for splashing in the pool. No splashing after a certain hour,” said Patricia Rossi, a civility expert, keynote speaker and author of “Everyday Etiquette.”
If you know your next-door neighbor has a newborn, try to be mindful of nap times and don’t send your children outside to run and play while they’re putting the baby down. If you like to blast music, make sure it’s off before bedtime.
Littering Used Gloves, Wipes And Masks
“Apparently there are some who still need reminding, littering during a pandemic is still littering,” said Smith.
“Apparently there are some who still need reminding, littering during a pandemic is still littering.”
“Wipes in the markets along with used gloves and masks must be disposed of appropriately,” Smith noted. “In addition to rudely littering, there is a chance you are actively spreading germs to those passing by or certainly to those tasked with cleaning our streets and outdoor spaces.”
Disrespecting Personal Space
Neighbors should be mindful of each other’s space and adhere to public health guidelines about distance. This can be challenging, especially for people living in closer quarters like apartment buildings.
“When you prepare to exit your apartment, peek into the hallway,” Smith said. “Be sure to give others a wide berth. You certainly can call out a warm greeting, but be sure you are the requisite six or more feet away even for the shortest of conversations.”
The same goes for elevators. Let your neighbors take elevator rides alone and don’t take offense if someone chooses to wait for a later one rather than join you.
“If you’re approaching the elevator at the same time as someone else, be vocal about why you’re going to wait for the next car,” said Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert founder of the Swann School of Protocol. “Just say, ‘Hey, I want to make sure we’re protecting each other, so I’m going to wait for the next car.’ Verbalizing that will bring about much more peace and convey concern, as opposed to giving a shifty-eyed look, stepping to the side and saying nothing at all.”
“Hosting parties, even small gatherings is definitely concerning at this time. Staying in, spending it with the people you live with, is simply good judgment and common sense from a health perspective,” said Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
Disobeying health guidelines is disrespectful to your entire community, and there are ways to stay connected without putting others in danger.
“As for standing in a large circle to socialize, while you may be technically six feet from each other, the medical community has been clear this is not the intent,” Smith explained. “In some communities the police are being dispatched to move people along. Our police have other pressing matters, so it’s better to videoconference your chats instead.”
Messing Up Communal Areas
Neighbor etiquette is all about respecting shared spaces, whether that’s the sidewalk in a suburban area or the hallways or trash room in an apartment building. With that in mind, don’t leave messes in these areas.
“Make sure you leave spaces better than how you found them,” Rossi advised. “If you’re emptying your trash and coffee grounds spill out, have the decency to clean that up. Tidiness starts with you.”
Not Picking Up After Your Dog
In addition to littering, many people seem to have forgotten the rules when it comes to picking up after their dogs.
“We’re walking our dogs a lot more right now,” Rossi noted. “So pick up after your dog. It’s common sense.”
Stealing Your Neighbor’s Wi-Fi
As most people are working from home, home Wi-Fi networks are getting overloaded.
If you’re in the habit of using a someone else’s Wi-Fi without their consent, this may be the time to reconsider that choice.
“Don’t hijack your neighbor’s internet,” said Rossi.
Times are stressful, but a little kindness goes a long way. With that in mind, refrain from scowling at neighbors you see when you’re outside your apartment or home.
“I think it’s important that you smile and say hello more than ever,” said Rossi. “Even while you’re keeping your social distance, ask, ‘Are you OK?’ and really listen.”
Swann suggested taking this time to open the lines of communication with neighbors by creating a contact chain of some sort. That way, you’ll be able to get in touch digitally if there’s an issue in the area or if you need to ask someone to lower their noise level or request a grocery delivery.
“Neighborhood apps can be a great way to connect with each other,” Swann said. “You could also share your contact information on their door and ask them to share theirs. Just identify yourself and say, ‘Hey, I live next to you and thought we could share our contact info. That way we can communicate with each other via phone or text.’”
Ignoring Health Guidelines
You can show respect for your community by following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and state and local public health officials.
“Take the lead on social distancing.”
“This is common sense,” Gottsman said. “Wash your hands, keep your hands away from your face, don’t touch high-touch areas, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze if you must be in the hallway, and practice social distancing.”
If you encounter neighbors while you’re walking the dog or going for a run, do your part to keep a safe distance.
“Take the lead on social distancing,” Swann advised. “Don’t wait for the other person to maneuver. That means you have to stop and step to the side until the other person walks or runs by or take your dog a few feet away and allow others to pass through. Be proactive with your social distancing.”
What To Do Instead
In addition to avoiding rude behaviors, you can take this time to step up as a neighbor and help your community.
“During a pandemic, being a good neighbor may mean calling your elderly neighbor to see if they need anything while you are out running errands or even just to chat in case they are feeling lonely,” Smith explained. “This may be waving, from a distance, at the toddler down the hall as you walk by. This may be by organizing socially distant activities such as opening windows or standing on balconies to cheer on health care and municipal workers.”
She added, “In fact, we know that one of the best ways to stay mentally well during times of stress is to think of others and do something for them. From sharing a roll from your stockpile of toilet paper, to having your child draw a picture to slip under their door, to calling regularly just to say ‘hello’ there are plenty of ways to be kind and considerate to those living nearby.”
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