Coronials and rituals


“I always take days off in the first days of January, because I don’t like all that kissing around for the New Year!” This is a statement I have often heard the past years at work. No chance of hearing it this year.

Indeed, hardly anybody will be around on campus and there will be no kissing each other this year for sure. Kissing others three times on certain special occasions is part of the rituals we’ve had in the Netherlands for a long time. In this case it goes with wishing a Happy New Year (“beste wensen”) to everyone you meet in, say, the first week of work in January. See for more rituals the column I wrote in January 2016 when things were normal. But now, after ten months of pandemic, many of these greetings and gestures have disappeared from our daily routines. Will they ever come back?

This is one of the questions a large group of Dutch anthropologists (De Polder-Antropologen) has tried to answer in the biggest ever social anthropological research about the New Normal. The main focus was on how we have adapted our social behavior under the pandemic.

Unlike students and staff on campus, the “Coronials” (i.e. those children growing up during the pandemic at an age when you learn good social manners), have now learned not to shake hands with people they meet. Also, the famous 3-kiss greeting for friends or family is restricted to just a happy few within your inner circle. Cuddling is the privilege left to only the (grand) parents and is barely tolerated as a small guilty pleasure! 

Although the “Coronials” are generally aware of the current situation, they also profit from the more collective way of living within the family and spending vacations and holidays in familiar places. This trend has added to the creation of a comfort zone and a psychological safe environment, despite the many changes.    

The study further researched what kinds of good habits and rituals parents teach their children in pandemic times and what they expect in the future. Apparently, young kids still have a horrific image of China and the related bats (de “zwarte pieten” of the pandemic so far) on their minds. In terms of figures, more than half of the parents expect viruses in general to form part of their children’s lives in the future. And one out of three is choosing to raise their kids in new corona-proof ways, including adapted manners and gestures.

About half of the parents see themselves as realists in making sure their kids respect the rules. But they also hope that some old normal will come back. Some twenty percent of all parents are suffering from the pandemic and want to release their children of the pandemic issues. However, especially those parents are the most worried about the future society their kids will live in.

A few more findings, reminding us of our campus life at TU/e where small is beautiful: social rituals and gatherings are taking place on a much smaller scale. Formal academic celebrations or more informal parties are reduced to a minimum, if not all organized online. Going places happens only for critical reasons. Our spending patterns have changed drastically.

But there are also positive aspects to this crisis: we’ve learned to appreciate those small things and the easiness and coziness of studying or working from home. Young people have become more autonomous, both in academic and social perspectives, which pleases both parents and educators. Finally, there is also a kind of “back-to-the-Fifties” atmosphere (nice for the boomers among us!). No more the unlimited, cosmopolitan and globalizing rat race we’ve had, but rather a more local and back-to-the roots experience. More neighborliness and proximity, i.e. the ability of living and learning together on a very local scale.

No doubt our traditional greetings and other social rituals, expressed nowadays mainly on a screen-to-screen format and based on only two senses (seeing and hearing), have been lost in transformation, due to the enormous boost in digitalization and technological hyper-connectivity. How much time will it take from this point until we shake hands, kiss, touch and use all our five senses again in communicating and living together? Think, for example, of birthday parties not via Zoom, but on-site, toasting for real in each other’s company and kissing and congratulating all those present sitting at a normal distance from each other in a traditional Dutch circle!

Moments to be longing for, as a sense of belonging.

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