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Will old social norms return in the post-pandemic world?

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 1:55 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s been a year of change. Things like keeping your distance from others and fist- or elbow-bumping instead of handshaking became etiquette.

As the world reverts back to normal, will pre-pandemic social norms make a comeback?

Tom Macias, the chair of UVM’s sociology department, says people change their behavior based on two factors: social cues and leadership.

As an example, he points to this time last year when we all put on masks for the first time.

“As you looked around and saw other people were doing it and thought, ‘OK, I can do this,’ and then the next time it was a little easier. So those cues, if you see that other people are doing it, it makes a really big difference,” Macias explained.

When it comes to greeting others, some people say they don’t feel comfortable shaking hands again.

“At this stage, I feel like I am conditioned now to not do that and I’ve adapted. So I don’t stick out my hand and I don’t respond in that way,” said Brandon Fowler of St. Johnsbury.

“I don’t know how I would feel about that... probably not,” said Binti Meganow of Burlington.

“I feel like shaking hands is a little too much,” said Andrew Christie of Burlington, “but I can do a fist-bump.”

Some say they don’t mind but they would wait for the other person to extend the gesture or assess their hands before going in for the shake.

“Can I get away with an elbow this time? Can I do a [tips hat]? I’m pretty sure we’re going to do a ‘tip of the hat, sir’ nod in a few but it’s going to be awkward,” said Roy Truth of Burlington.

They’re also still analyzing how they feel about social activities in close quarters.

“Cruise ships are questionable now,” Truth said.

“I mean, I could be wearing my mask sitting next to them but if the movie theater seatings are not being cleaned and I’m just... oooh, I don’t know,” Meganow said.

Macias says only time will tell if and how quickly humans readjust.

“We’ll find out,” he said. “My sense is heading in that direction but I also think that it was such a transformation that we have to have been changed I think in some way as a society.”

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