As the Covid-19 pandemic continues year after year, it has led to changes in our daily behavior: hiding indoors, social distancing, reduced physical contact, and a tendency to avoid dense social gatherings. These changes are transmitted to our nonverbal behavior. How has our daily body language changed due to the pandemic? Will some of these changes be permanent?
mask. Although the concealment of masks indoors is declining, as people suffer from epidemic fatigue, there are likely to be some people maintaining this practice and some crowded places (such as planes and trains) where a large number of cautious individuals wear masks. By masking one’s face, it becomes very difficult to read important facial expressions that give us information about what the other is feeling and how they are reacting. Think of a friendly smile. It is almost impossible to read behind a surgical mask.
Personal space bubble. We all maintain some kind of “bubble” of personal space between us and others. Our bubble is smaller when we are around people we are close to and bigger when we are around strangers. Over time, we each develop a “comfortable” amount of personal space. Urging people during the pandemic to stay six feet away from others appears to have slightly increased our physical distancing. The unanswered question is whether or not this will be a permanent change, causing “bubbles” in most of us.
Air kiss. In many parts of the United States, but more commonly in Europe, there is a greeting for kissing a friend or relative on the cheek – in Europe, kissing may involve two or three kisses. Since the pandemic, there has been a decrease in the use of cheek kissing as a greeting (replaced by a variety of distant greetings) and more “air kissing” – avoiding lip-to-cheek contact, often with space between the two faces.
Half hug. When I first started researching compliments 45 years ago, men rarely embraced salutations. Over the decades, male-to-male hugs became a more common greeting, even resulting in massive “bear hugs” between “brothers”. Of course, women and mixed couples were always cuddling in greeting. I’ve noticed that during an epidemic, male-to-male hugs tend to turn into a “half hug” – placing one arm halfway around the other’s shoulder. Moreover, due to the epidemic, the incidence of greeting hugs is generally declining, and the duration of any contact, a full hug or a half hug, tends to be lower.
fist bump. In business settings, the handshake was the accepted and “formal” greeting. (You can read a bit from the body language experts about the best handshake techniques, and what the different types of handshakes mean.) Since the pandemic, in many work environments, handshakes have been replaced by fist bumps, which provide less skin contact. (Even the US president’s fist recently shocked another head of state.) In terms of formality, the handshake is more formal, and fist bumps have been used as a less casual greeting between friends and acquaintances in social settings. Perhaps the handshake begins to fade from our range of typical greeting behavior, being replaced by less formal fist bumps or other greetings, in the same way that business dress has become more casual over the years. Only time will prove it.
What changes in body language have you noticed during the pandemic?