We Zoomed our way through lockdown. We House Partied more than we’d ever actually house partied. We pretended doing trivia in fancy hats over a computer wasn’t at all slightly strange and lame and probably more appropriate for your teenage brother hiding out in the basement circa 1999.
But while we all dreamed of post-pandemic socialising as being some sort of hedonistic affair that even Jay Gatsby would consider OTT, the reality is a little more sobering.
As we shoe-horned our way back into our non-elasticised pants, dislodged the hairbrush from behind the couch, and started going out again, it was clear it wasn’t quite going to be business as usual.
First, the greeting. Not since you accidentally pashed Great Aunt Gertrude due to a miscalculated head tilt, has the humble hello been so fraught with tension.
Handshakes are out; but an awkward elbow bump is tolerable. Hugs can be administered with the most gingerly placed hands, and faces avoiding all breathing space; but try an air kiss and lord, you’re facing total recoil from your target.
The close friends you’d normally embrace with all the gusto of a Karen in a Bunnings, are now met with a tentative, ‘Oh, are we doing this? Is it OK if I..?’ like a guilty teenage embrace in the back row at the cinema.
As for those acquaintances you run into on the street, the dance of the seven veils is less complicated than the ducking and weaving as you both attempt to signal nominal interest and vague affection without stepping within those invisible – but so very palpable – physical radiuses we have now been conditioned to maintain. ‘Do you want some hand sanitiser?’ has become code for ‘do not come near me until you’ve decontaminated your filthy paws’.
For those of us lucky enough to be enough to go for that meal out or that long-awaited dinner party, a whole new set of norms await.
There’s definitely no more, ‘You must try this!’ or ‘Can I have a sip?’ Share plates are divided with the precision of a brain surgeon, careful to avoid cross-contamination. A communal serving spoon is eyed with the suspicion of the royal family when Meghan first came round for tea.
Meanwhile, the word ‘buffet’ may as well just be replaced with ‘corona cluster’ with the level of anxiety-inspiring hygiene breaches they embody.
But the most complicated, mind-bending IQ test of them all? The guest list. Or, specifically, how many therewith. You may like someone enough for a 50 person outdoor free-for-all, but they definitely would not make the cut for a five person indoor gathering. Friendship circles are split as numbers are counted with more fervour than a federal leadership spill. Allegiances are negotiated, politeness relegated, as a complicated Game of Thrones unfolds to spare anyone the disappointment of what could easily end up being a last supper before the next lockdown, comprising of three pity invites and the neighbour you only included to preclude them complaining about the noise.
Safer? Yes. Necessary? Yes. Kind of exhausting? Double yes.
But while we may still be a long way off from the bacchanalian revelry of our dreams, how reassuring to see that, on the whole, we’ve jumped on this crazy new hygiene bandwagon with the zeal of a ‘Bachelor’ contestant vying for an Instagram sponsorship. Because if a bit of extra brain power is the difference between me and yet another Zoom trivia sesh in my trakkie daks, then count me in.
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