Covid Cranky—Confessions from the Heart

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Is there anyone who has not experienced what I call “Covid Cranky”? Whether it has been in person, online or over the phone, I am willing to bet you can relate. Covid cranky exists in all aspects of our daily lives. Sadly, it has become such an everyday occurrence that I find myself bracing for it. Whether I pick up the phone, open my email or head out on a simple errand, I am like a knight going into battle, armed with my sword and shield.

What a sad state of affairs. This is not how we should be living our lives. We no longer “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” We plan for the worst and expect the worst.

Let me stop here and confess that I find myself becoming one of the Covid Cranky. Pre-Covid I gave myself credit for being a “nice” person. I have made a career out of being kind and courteous. Sadly, “niceness” is becoming history. I prepare for battle every day.

Do you do that? Are you preparing for the worst and expecting the worst? If you are willing to admit to it, what are you willing to do about it? I had to ask myself that same question. Do I want to end every day counting the notches on my belt of those I have taken out along the way?

Amid my introspective dilemma, I had an unexpected experience with a customer service rep. The company was Instacart. I had been offered a discount for placing an order with them. It seemed like a good idea so I gave it a try. When I completed my order and received my receipt, there was no discount. What to do? Contact Instacart? Good luck, I thought. I bet they don’t even have a phone number. To my surprise they do. I called prepared for the worst.

To my delight and amazement, the man on the other end of the line was pleasant from the start. After listening to my issue, he immediately offered up how he could help. His solution involved some technology steps that I was unable to manage. No problem…he said he’d go behind the scenes and hit a few buttons. It didn’t take long before he returned to say that he had resolved the problem and I would immediately see the discount applied to my account.

Whew! That was easy. I was happy. But it was not over yet. His next words were, “Have I made you happy? Have I made you smile today?” I wasn’t smiling. I was grinning. When was the last time someone has asked you if they made you smile today?

We seem to have forgotten how important it is to make people smile and to make them happy. I am still blown away by this act of courtesy. And, yes, I am still smiling.

What if we all focus on how to make people smile? It doesn’t take much beyond an attitude of helpfulness and intention.

I am reminded of the Jimmy Buffet song “It’s my Job”. This rep at Instacart understood that it was his job to be better than the rest. Hopefully, it made his day, as well as mine, better than the rest.

 

The Holiday Card – A Victim of Procrastination

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Do you tend to leave things until the last minute? Sadly, most of us do. There is always more time, right? One of the victims of procrastination is the holiday card. It is almost September, and I am already talking about the holidays. It’s not too early, believe me.

In your business and your personal life, if you wait too long to start the process—like after Thanksgiving—sending your cards may become more of a chore than a pleasure. If you delay, your clients and colleagues may already have left the office for the holidays and your friends may be too swamped at that point to notice your thoughtfulness.

Here are some tips to ease the chore and to make your best impression:

  1. Purchase a quality card. It is not necessary to spend a fortune, but good quality says you value your clients, colleagues and friends enough to “send the very best.”
  2. Order your cards while there is time to have your name or the company printed on them. You want them to have a professional look.
  3. Send your greetings early. Have them in the mail the first week in December if you want them to be noticed and appreciated.
  4. Plan to sign your name and write a brief message. The holiday card that comes without a personal signature and a note seems more obligatory than celebratory. It does not matter that your name is already printed on the card. Give it that handwritten touch.
  5. Address the envelopes by hand. While it is easier and faster to print address labels, you lose the personal touch.  Consider hiring someone to do this if you do not have the time to do it yourself.
  6. Use titles when addressing your cards. The envelope should be addressed to “Mr. John Smith” not “John Smith” or “Ms. Mary Brown” not “Mary Brown.” By the way, “Ms.” is the correct title to use in business.
  7. Invest in holiday stamps and avoid the postage meter.  That is just one more personal touch—and a festive one at that.
  8. Email greeting cards may be tempting because they require less time and trouble. It is not totally in bad taste these days to e-mail your holiday wishes, but it is impersonal and not the most impressive way to do it.  Your clever electronic message with singing Santas and dancing trees is a fleeting greeting.  The recipient will click on the URL, download the card, open it, read it, smile, close it, and, in all probability, hit “delete”. Chances are good that your physical card will have a longer lifespan.  Most people save greeting cards throughout the holiday season, and many display them around their office or home.
  9. One final tip: Address your envelopes as soon as you receive your cards. Once you get that step out of the way, you can sit back and relax while you write your personal message on each greeting card.

Handling Awkward Situations

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Earlier this summer I was contacted by a reporter with the Chicago Tribune who was writing a column called “Social Graces”. She asked me to respond to the following question:

How do you address a friend who always embarrasses you in social circles by bringing up things you did in the past?

I loved this question because I have first-hand experience with handling awkward situations, particularly this one. A close friend has done it to me for years. My usual response is to smile and try to laugh off whatever embarrassing moment she wants to pass on. For the most part, the things she chooses to reveal are what she perceives to be humorous. Kept between the two of us, they might be funny.

How do I address these awkward moments? I find that laughing them off is best. There is no need to call out my friend in front of everyone else. Laughing at her stories puts me in the position of laughing at myself. Self-deprecating humor is well-received by others. There is no reason to make an uncomfortable situation any more awkward.

After listening to my friend tell the same story on several different occasions, I have taken her aside and asked her to stop repeating my embarrassing moments. I have told her that I am not happy with having her make fun of me.

In these awkward situations, it is important to let the other person know how bringing up past events, that are not always complimentary, makes you feel. People often fail to consider the feelings of others. Asking the question, “Do you realize how this makes me feel?” is the best approach. “Feel” being the keyword.

Another tact, when you see this coming, is to stop the person immediately and say, “Do you mind not telling that story again? I think everyone has already heard it.”

The less attention you draw to the situation the better.

In summary,

  • Try to brush off or laugh at what your friend is saying.
  • Refocus or change the subject as quickly and smoothly as possible.
  • Take your friend aside and let her know how she makes you feel and ask that she think before she does it again.

Replying to Invitations Post-Pandemic

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What’s the one thing you have missed most during the pandemic? When asked, many will reply that it’s people. Even the extreme introverts give this answer. Human beings need connection and social interaction. Some need it more than others.

During the pandemic, technology has allowed us to communicate via Zoom, texting, and other online platforms. However, there is nothing that quite compares with being in the same time and space as our friends and family. We miss them all, even grumpy old Uncle Fred or bossy Aunt Mary.

Now that some of the rules of masking and social distancing are beginning to relax post-pandemic, how do you feel about venturing out into social situations? More people than you might think are somewhat reluctant to return to socializing as they once knew it. Many fear that they have lost their social skills and are afraid they won’t be comfortable mixing and mingling again.

Are you someone who is excited to see an invitation come your way; yet when it comes time to head out, you lose your nerve? Maybe you rejected the invitation to begin with. Perhaps you accepted and now need a graceful way to back out? Once again, let me assure you that you are not alone. It’s oddly part of that “new normal” we talk about.

Having established that these feelings are commonplace, how do you handle replying to invitations, specifically turning down invitations without offending someone and risk being forever blacklisted?

Try a bit of old-fashioned honesty. Most people will understand when you confess that you aren’t quite ready to go out. You can explain that despite being fully vaccinated, you are somewhat reluctant to be in groups or crowds. If you aren’t comfortable exposing your fears, you can simply say that, unfortunately, you have a conflict. There’s no need to explain further.

Keep it simple. You only need one reason to turn down an invitation. You never want to pile on a dozen excuses for staying away. Even if all twelve are legitimate, it sounds phony.

Be appreciative. No matter how you choose to respond, thank your would-be host and ask if you can have the proverbial rain check. Stress that you are grateful to have been thought of and that you value the invitation. Suggest that you get together sometime soon.

Go easy on yourself. Take your time with your re-entry. Try accepting a few invitations, perhaps those for small events. Above all, keep in mind that while you may feel alone, you are in good company. This is normal post-lockdown apprehension. When you are ready, the world will be waiting and will welcome you with open arms.

Covid’s Lasting Impact on Professional Conduct

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This blog post on Covid’s lasting impact on professional conduct is written from the perspective of a business etiquette expert living in Savannah, Georgia, the Hostess City.

Whoever thought that six months after the coronavirus emerged in the US, we would still be suffering its effects in all aspects of our lives? Few of us believe that things will be the same as they were pre-pandemic. A question on the minds of many is what the long-term effects on our business and professional conduct will be.

Emerging from Corona

My home, Savannah, has long been noted for its charm and grace. Visitors to our city are wowed by our cordiality and friendliness. When we emerge from COVID-19, fearful of physical contact and personal interactions, will we still be able to display that Southern charm for which we are renowned? If we must hide behind masks and practice social distancing, can we maintain the hallmarks of our unique business environment and Southern hospitality? How will your city survive?

It can be done, but it will be different. The firm handshake that defines the business professional may become a faint memory. Hugs and kisses, also part of our business culture, may also fade away while we wait to learn that it is “safe to go back into the water.” Thank you, “Jaws” director Steven Spielberg.

Meeting and Greeting Post Pandemic

How will we meet and greet others from this point on? What will happen to the handshake?  If you are not comfortable shaking hands, decide now how you will handle that. Be ready to say, “Please excuse me for not shaking your hand, but I am not comfortable doing that yet.” Nothing else needs to be said.

I am not a fan of fist or elbow bumps in the business environment. They are too close for comfort and not worthy of a polished professional.

Wining and Dining

Wining, dining and conducting business over meals, a critical part of relationship building, will not be the same. Until we feel confident that the virus is not a threat to our collective health, something as simple as sharing a cup of coffee may be complicated.

When you consider where to meet for your business meal, you will want to check with the restaurant about their safety precautions. Make sure that they are following the recommended guidelines so you can concentrate on the business at hand and not worry about the environment.

Smiling through Your Face Mask

Face masks will be part of daily business attire, making it challenging to exhibit charm and friendliness, but it can be done. Although people cannot see your smile through your mask, they can hear it in your tone of voice and see it through your eye contact. It has never been so much what you say as the way you say it that counts.

Professional Conduct Will Survive

For the foreseeable future, there is little doubt that it will be necessary to follow the safety guidelines currently in place. Life will be different, and it will take some getting used to. Old habits may have to be broken, but courtesy and kindness (aka professional conduct) do not have to fall victim to the coronavirus. Whatever needs to be done to protect ourselves and others going forward can be done with the same grace and charm that Savannahians have always shown in their personal and professional lives.

Expressing Condolences during the Coronavirus Pandemic

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To even suggest that these are difficult times is a classic understatement. We all know and feel the challenges and pain of Covid-19. In one way or another, each of us has been affected. We are all mourning and searching for ways of expressing condolences.  We have lost family members, close friends, colleagues, coworkers or acquaintances. If we have not personally suffered the pain of loss, we know someone who has.

Helping those who are mourning has become complicated since we cannot gather to say goodbye, we cannot embrace the bereaved family and we cannot come together as a community to celebrate and remember a life well-lived. All that being said, I do not mean to imply that there is nothing you can do to reach out to people who are grieving. There are numerous ways of expressing condolences and showing that you care.

Attend the funeral or memorial service.

If the service is conducted in a place, such as a graveside, where you can social distance and wear a mask, by all means, go. Even if you cannot speak to the family, you can sign the guest book so they will know that you were with them.

Pick up the phone and call.

During this time of isolation, a phone call and the sound of another human voice may be just what the grieving person needs. If they do not feel like talking, they can decline your call. They will know and appreciate your effort. If you connect, do not attempt to be a grief counselor. Your job is to ask how they are feeling and listen to what they have to say.

Food is always appreciated.

There may not be the usual large family crowds around, but someone is going to need to eat. If you find out that enough food is already being provided, wait a week before offering to take a meal. It may be needed more later. For fear of spreading the virus and to practice social distancing, advise the family that you are coming. Call when you arrive and leave your nourishing gift at the door.

With today’s technology, there is no excuse for remaining silent.

While I am not a fan of using the Internet to send condolences, it is better than nothing at all. In spite of my aversion to emailing, texting, or using forms of social media to convey your sympathy, there are those for whom it is their preferred means of communication.  Options for expressing your condolences online include 1) writing a message in a guestbook published on the funeral home’s website, 2) sending a sympathetic email, 3) texting your acknowledgment—although that should be the channel of last resort. Online communication platforms are endless.

If you are a loyal subscriber to this blog, it will come as no surprise that when you cannot do it in person, my preferred manner of conveying sympathy is the time-honored handwritten note.

Nothing trumps that. If you want your kindness to make a lasting impression and offer the most solace, find your note or correspondence cards, your nicest fountain pen, your forever stamps and share your thoughts on paper with the one who is grieving. Those who have suffered a loss often save those notes for a long time and bring them out at anniversary dates and other times of remembrance.

During this time of Covid-19, people who are mourning need support more than ever.

They are often alone having to quarantine. They need love and support. Whatever you decide to do, do it immediately and make a promise to yourself that you will not let it end there. Go beyond keeping these people in your thoughts—keep them in your actions. Continue to stay in touch and do the little things that can mean so much.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com to learn how her virtual presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your associates add the polish that builds profits through these tough times.

Etiquette Dilemmas Created by Coronavirus

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We are now in the sixth month of the Corona Pandemic and etiquette dilemmas abound. People have begun to venture out into the world while others are still sheltering at home. Businesses are slowly and with a tinge of trepidation beginning to reopen. Some organizations have found they can operate efficiently with their employees working from home. Safety, health and welfare remain top of mind.

The world we are coming back to is far different and more socially confusing than the one we lived in pre-pandemic. It is fraught with awkward moments and challenging situations. If you were uncertain of how to conduct yourself in business and daily life five months ago, you are finding this period even more perplexing.

Everything has changed–from how we meet and greet others to how we interact with our colleagues. We are used to handshakes and hugs. No more of those. We are accustomed to sitting down at work to discuss an issue with a coworker. Forget that. We don’t go to meetings anymore—they come to us. If you are late for an appointment, you can’t blame getting stuck in traffic unless you tripped over your kids’ toys trying to get to your desk. You used to know what to wear to work. Now that you are at home, how should you dress for that Zoom meeting?

When we go out into the world, we wear a face mask. When we encounter another person, we sometimes have trouble deciding “who is that masked man?” It’s hard to understand what people are saying when masks muffle the sound. To me, the most troubling thing is figuring out if that person is smiling or not. And are you sure that you are six feet apart?

Restaurants are now allowing in-house dining. When local laws mandate that we wear face masks in public, how does that work in a dining situation? You can’t eat with a mask on so now what?

There are clear answers to most of those questions.

About the handshake: The easiest way to deal with that is to simply say to the person you are greeting, “Please excuse me for not shaking your hand, but I am not comfortable doing that during this time.” Some people are doing the elbow bump, but it is usually done more in fun and in casual settings. It is definitely not a formal business greeting. Only time will tell whether the handshake will survive.

When you can’t sit down with your coworker in person, there are options. The old-fashioned phone comes to mind. If you prefer to see that person, arrange for a Zoom session, Facetime or one of the other communication platforms. Be kind and don’t surprise your colleague with Facetime if they were not expecting you. You wouldn’t go to their house without alerting them that you were coming. Same thing with video calls.

What’s the answer to what to wear for a Zoom meeting? Unless you are meeting with a high-level executive, there is no need for formal business attire. A clean pressed shirt or a nice blouse will do. Some people are now claiming to have a “Zoom shirt” or “Zoom blouse”. It hangs over the back of their chair or on a hook behind the door. It goes on when the call comes in and off when the call is over. If you are still wearing your pajama bottoms, don’t stand up during the call.

As for those face masks at a restaurant, you need to wear one into the restaurant and while waiting for your table. Wear it when you sit down and while ordering. Only remove it when your food or beverage arrives. Common sense would say that you put your mask back on as you exit.

Little remains the same as it was pre-pandemic. Be patient and be considerate. Keep in mind that others are probably just as confused as you are. As we hear so often “We are all in this together.”

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com.

Pandemic Grocery Store Etiquette

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Coronavirus has done it again. It has altered another aspect of our lives and caused us to rethink one more behavior—the way we grocery shop. The result is a new set of etiquette rules. When I began writing this column 25 years ago, it never occurred to me that grocery store etiquette would become a topic. But here I am writing to remind people how to conduct themselves while shopping for their daily bread.

During this pandemic, grocery stores have implemented new policies and procedures to protect their customers and employees. They are trying to ensure that everyone is following the recommended guidelines to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. For their part, stores have provided hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. They have posted signs and make periodic announcements reminding customers to social distance. They have marked their floors at checkout points to indicate where customers should stand. Others have gone a step further and redesigned their floor plan to create one-way traffic so customers do not find themselves passing too close to each other.

With stores doing their part, it’s time for the shopping public to do theirs. Most people are following the rules. As always there are exceptions. Those few are making it risky for others.

There are etiquette rules that everyone needs to follow in order not to be the jerk at the supermarket. Etiquette means exhibiting a strong moral code of conduct as well as being respectful and courteous towards others. As we struggle to get through this difficult time, you can do your part by paying attention to your pandemic grocery store etiquette.

Wear a mask. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s fast becoming a fashion accessory. Who would have thought? You might as well invest in more than one mask as this pandemic is most likely to be with us for a while. Why not have a little fun with it? As a reminder: you wear a mask to protect others, not yourself. Let’s all put one on.

Follow the signs. Pay attention to where you should stand. There may be places other than checkout lines where you need to keep physical distance. Respect those one-way paths.

Minimize your shopping trips. Although our governor has lifted the stay-at-home order for all but special cases, limit your visits. By doing so you can cut down on the chances of spreading the virus. Your pocketbook will thank you. You’ll plan more thoughtfully and learn to shop for only what you need.

Don’t be a hoarder. I will never look at a roll of toilet paper the same way again. It will forever be a reminder of Covid-19. Granted, some items are still scarce. Most stores have set limits on those high-demand items. Take only what you need. Leave some for other people. There will always be food on the shelves. And yes, toilet paper.

Watch where you put your hands. Some experts warn that the virus can live on certain surfaces for some time. Others disagree. Why take a chance? We know so little about this disease. Make it a habit to touch only what you plan to buy. It’s not necessary to handle five tomatoes before you settle on the one you want.

Properly dispose of gloves and wipes. The ground outside the store is not the place to toss them. Someone has to clean up after you. If you can’t find a trash can, take items home to discard them.

Shop mindfully. You may think you are invincible, but not everyone is. We continually hear that we are all in this together. Think of others; not just yourself.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert. Visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com to learn how her virtual presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits through tough times.

Flag Etiquette

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As we approach the Fourth of July, what better to time to review our flag etiquette? For those who have served or are serving in our military, flag etiquette is second nature. For the rest of us, the do’s and don’ts are not so well-known. If you are among those eager to fly “Old Glory” on July 4th, no doubt you want to do it correctly and avoid anything that is disrespectful of our stars and stripes.

The American Legion established the standards of flag etiquette under what is known as the United States Flag Code. Compliance is not mandatory. It is voluntary and strongly suggested. I have chosen to offer the best practices for respectfully caring for and displaying your flag.

Displaying the Flag.

The flag is displayed from sunrise to sunset on buildings and outdoor flagstaffs. It may only be displayed 24 hours a day if it is illuminated during the hours of darkness. If you are flying the flag on the front of your house, you need not run out and purchase a spotlight. Just leave your porch light on.

Pay attention to the position of the union—the blue background with white stars, symbolizing the union of the states. The union should be at the peak of the staff when projecting horizontally, at an angle from a windowsill or the front of a building. When displayed against a wall or in a window, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s right—that would be to the observer’s left.

The flag should not be flown in inclement weather unless you have an all-weather flag, one made of nylon, polyester or other treated material.

The flag is never displayed with the union down except as a signal of extreme distress meaning danger to life or property.

Respecting the Flag

Flags should not be displayed over any part of a vehicle, train or boat unless they are affixed to a staff.

Neither the flag nor any part of it should be used for apparel, bedding, drapery, or as part of a costume or uniform. The exception is using it as a flag patch on the uniform of military personnel, firemen and policemen.

No items that are intended for temporary use should be decorated with the flag. That means that the flag should not be embroidered, embossed or printed on cushions (please, don’t sit on the flag), napkins, boxes, bags or anything else that will be discarded.

Disposing of the Flag

Torn or tattered flags are not appropriate for display and ought to be destroyed respectfully. According to the code of respect, this should be done by burning. Organizations such as the American Legion, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts regularly retire flags. There is no need to start your own bonfire.

The flag as wearing apparel

The line in the flag code that causes the greatest confusion is the one that states that the flag should not be used for apparel. That begs the question “Is it permissible to wear an item of clothing that looks like the United States flag?” The answer from the American Legion is “Unless an article of clothing is made from an actual United States flag, there is NO breach of flag etiquette whatsoever. People are simply expressing their patriotism and love of country by wearing an article of clothing that happens to be red, white, and blue with stars and stripes. There is nothing illegal about the wearing or use of these items.”

For those of you who may be celebrating the 4th of July by wearing your red, white and blue face mask to honor our country and respect the health of your fellow citizens, have at it. It’s acceptable.

Coronavirus Etiquette at the Grocery Store

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Coronavirus has done it again. It has altered another aspect of our lives and caused us to rethink one more behavior—the way we grocery shop. The result is a new set of what I deem Coronavirus etiquette rules. When I began writing this column 25 years ago, it never occurred to me that grocery store etiquette would become a topic. But here I am writing to remind people how to conduct themselves while shopping for their daily bread.

During this pandemic, grocery stores have implemented new policies and procedures to protect their customers and employees. They are trying to ensure that everyone is following the recommended guidelines to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. For their part, stores have provided hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. They have posted signs and make periodic announcements reminding customers to social distance. They have marked their floors at checkout points to indicate where customers should stand. Others have gone a step further and redesigned their floor plan to create one-way traffic so customers do not find themselves passing too close to each other.

With stores doing their part, it’s time for the shopping public to do theirs. Most people are following the rules. As always there are exceptions. Those few are making it risky for others.

There are etiquette rules that everyone needs to follow in order not to be the jerk at the supermarket. Etiquette means exhibiting a strong moral code of conduct as well as being respectful and courteous towards others. As we struggle to get through this difficult time, you can do your part.

Wear a mask. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s fast becoming a fashion accessory. Who would have thought? You might as well invest in more than one mask as this pandemic is most likely to be with us for a while. Why not have a little fun with it? As a reminder: you wear a mask to protect others, not yourself. Let’s all put one on.

Follow the signs. Pay attention to where you should stand. There may be places other than checkout lines where you need to keep physical distance. Respect those one-way paths.

Minimize your shopping trips. Although our governor has lifted the stay-at-home order for all but special cases, limit your visits. By doing so you can cut down on the chances of spreading the virus. Your pocketbook will thank you. You’ll plan more thoughtfully and learn to shop for only what you need.

Don’t be a hoarder. I will never look at a roll of toilet paper the same way again. It will forever be a reminder of Covid-19. Granted, some items are still scarce. Most stores have set limits on those high-demand items. Take only what you need. Leave some for other people. There will always be food on the shelves. And yes, toilet paper.

Watch where you put your hands. Some experts warn that the virus can live on certain surfaces for some time. Others disagree. Why take a chance? We know so little about this disease. Make it a habit to touch only what you plan to buy. It’s not necessary to handle five tomatoes before you settle on the one you want.

Properly dispose of gloves and wipes. The ground outside the store is not the place to toss them. Someone has to clean up after you. If you can’t find a trash can, take items home to discard them.

Shop mindfully. You may think you are invincible, but not everyone is. We continually hear that we are all in this together. Think of others; not just yourself.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert. She has traveled across the US and as far away as India and Dubai. Now she can now come to you virtually to offer her wisdom. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com to learn how her virtual presentations and workshops can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits, especially during tough times