How embarrassing

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Musings on luxury and leisure, post annus horribilis

Social norms have shifted as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. While kids are often quick to adapt to new trends, changes to the way we’ve always done things become more challenging as we get older.

Have you noticed that the people struggling with the Covid app at the front door of the shop are often older – the kids rock up, raise their smartphones and cruise-on through.

Meanwhile mum is still growling at Dad at the door explaining that he needs to open the app before he points the camera at the QR code – “No, not in selfie mode, turn the phone around the other way.” It should work; Why hasn’t it? Stupid phone! Stupid rules!

The kids knew this was going to be embarrassing (as usual), so they’ve bolted. Dad’s decided the pen and paper sign-in is probably a better bet for him from now on and Mum and Dad’s bickering continues. Why, oh why, does it never work for Dad?

But its not all about apps and Covid scanning and inappropriate emojis, not checking social media, etc

New challenges

Covid-19 has bought with it a plethora of new challenges far beyond scanning at the door of the supermarket.

It all began a year ago, when we weren’t required to wear masks, but we had to learn not to shake hands or hug – having been bought up to believe not shaking hands was a sign of disrespect and being a cold-fish non-hugger was bad form, even if you had no relations in Italy, it became excruciatingly awkward for many of us to simply wave at the boss when you were only a meter apart, or to butcher casting a heart fingers meme thing at your aunty rather than giving her a hug.

Fast forward a year and masks are de rigueur – even Dad’s wearing one, though as usual, his just looks embarrassing. But this new social norm brings with it a few real issues. New issues.

I have been the first to say, in a lecturing way, “Don’t txt, phone!”

Why? Because nuance is so often lost and tone misconstrued in a txt; Sarcasm is often mistaken for criticism and jokes are not read as jokes.

‘You are such a dick’ can so easily be misinterpreted as, ‘You really are such a dick’, rather than, ‘You are such a dick’ as a term of endearment – you get it!

Leaving the door open

By insisting we all wear masks, that same door for misinterpretation and unintended offence has been left wide open. Traditionally if I make joke in public, say by telling the obviously pregnant shop assistant she should eat less, my ridiculous accompanying grin might alleviate potential offence (though none of the embarrassment of such an inappropriate ‘dad joke’); Put a mask over my mouth and that throw away bad-taste quip, without the accompanying grin, leaves a void which is filled immediately with offence and disgust.

A smile has always been able to be used to disarm – who cares if Brad Pitt is a serial killer, he’s got a smile; Forget Julia Roberts job title, that smile could melt ice.

So when I recently overstepped the crime scene queue tape at the supermarket, I felt very offended when the checkout operator glared at me and said, “Get behind the line, SIR!” I couldn’t see her mouth, so I wasn’t sure if she really did despise me for my boundary indiscretion … or was I reading her all wrong?

I immediately delivered my response, a practised clenched-teeth cringe (a visual version of, ‘OMG I’m so sorry’). Did she appreciate my contrition, or was my deference completely lost on her? Hard to tell when you can’t see the face behind the mask. The moral of the story, “Don’t step over the line with a mask on and expect a flash of your pearly whites to get you off with just a warning.”

I’m not an anti-masker, on the contrary I love having somewhere to hide my reactions when in the company of fools or really badly dressed people. But today I made a mistake which I hope to never make again: I arrived at the supermarket in good humour. I scanned in almost without breaking stride (yes!) and managed to find almost everything on the list without any re-navigation. Some of the shoppers seemed a bit aggressive, but hard to tell when they have masks on. To my horror mid-bathroom supplies aisle, a humiliating revelation befell me – I had forgotten to put my mask on.

Two-hours later as I write this, I am still traumatised. Questions still whirl in my mind. How many people saw me? Did they assume I am an anti-masker? An anti-Vaxer? Worse still, a Trumper? OMG, I am so embarrassed.

To those who my actions offended, “I apologise for any offence caused”.

Social norms have shifted, I am not anti-mask, I am simply easily distracted.

Read more: EV, or not EV? – that is the question

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Alan Neben
Alan Neben
Alan Neben is a Mount Maunganui local and experienced New Zealand publisher. His columns provide a light-hearted perspective on social changes effecting New Zealanders

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