The pandemic has made a lot of social situations awkward. Here's how to handle them.

Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT) June 5, 2020

As we emerge from our pandemic isolation, the world we're coming back to is far different and more socially confusing than it once was. We're used to warm hugs, hearty handshakes and big gatherings, which means our new safety-conscious lifestyles are bound to get a little awkward. We asked two etiquette experts -- The "Golden Rules Girl" Lisa Grotts and Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting -- for some pointers on navigating some of the most common sticky social situations we'll be facing in our new pandemic reality.

A stranger gets too close at the grocery store

Keep a cool head: You're shopping, and someone reaches in for the same can of beans or is breathing down your neck in the checkout line. Maybe they don't even have a mask! Whatever you do, don't let a snide comment or dirty look escalate the situation. "It's impossible to avoid people, so you sometimes have to be the one to keep your distance. If someone is getting close, just yield," Grotts says. "It's like that immortal 'Jerry Maguire' line: Help me help you."

Don't presume a negative intent: "This person may have been up all night worrying, and they're just trying to get milk for their kids, and they drifted," Smith says.

Try a little levity: If you're stuck in a place where you can't do much moving, like in line or in a small space, she suggests using a little levity. "I might say something like, 'With all of this social distancing, I don't even know what six feet is anymore!' Something that brings awareness with kindness," Smith says.

A friend starts espousing a coronavirus conspiracy theory

Do something, but don't dwell: Some theories about the pandemic are harmless to discuss and debate, even if you're not sold on them. If it's idle (but irritating) chatter, go ahead and change the subject with a pleasant question or anecdote. But if someone keeps bringing up a problematic, damaging or just flat-out wrong train of thought, Smith says you don't need to keep quiet. Just be mindful of how and when you call someone out.
"I'm of the mind that you shouldn't let something problematic go unaddressed, but try to be circumspect in addressing it, and then change the subject," she says. Try something that lets your friend know you regard them highly, like "If I didn't know you better, I'd say you were being racist. That's not like you." And then, swiftly move the conversation along.
Redirect: Why not just let it go? "In conversation etiquette, the most important thing is to acknowledge what's going on," says Grotts. "Acknowledge the line of conversation, and then politely redirect."

An acquaintance goes in for a handshake

Use your words -- and body language: In American culture, we're programmed to see the refusal of a handshake as the height of rudeness. If you're staring down the barrel of an unwanted greeting, body language can go a long way in communicating your intent, and words can convey just as much warmth as physical touch.
"I pull both of my hands into a stop sign up to your shoulders, so you're not pushing them away," Smith says. "Say, 'I am so excited to see you.' The key here is not the words, but the tone of voice. So you're expressing warmth through tone of voice."
A little humor can go a long way: "You can spell it out with kindness," says Grotts. "Say something like, 'Oh I wish I could shake your hand!' is a good way to remind people that it's not accepted right now."

The conversation among friends seems to focus on one thing: the pandemic

You can't avoid it, so make the best of it: You've gone through the trouble of arranging a small gathering or, miraculously, getting everyone's Zoom to work at the same time. Why waste quality time talking about the pandemic nonstop?
"It's hard to avoid, but there are ways to make it more personal and positive," says Grotts. "In conversation skills, you want to ask questions that have an open answer. Ask how people are. Yes, we know it's all doom and gloom, but ask how people are planning to spend their summer without traveling or what they're looking forward to. Life may never be the same, but we can still make plans and talk about the future."

You're having a small gathering, but want to set expectations for social distancing

Your house, your rules -- but nicely: It's tempting to let the social distancing dance slide a little bit, and you