How to politely ask someone to step the f*** back

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ISTOCK (ALANO DESIGN)
Opinion: Those of us who already had personal space issues are now on our very last nerves thanks to the pandemic.

As someone whose personal bubble is a bit larger than the average, I have to say I got my hopes up when it came to this new concept of physical distancing in the era of COVID-19.

Imagine… a world where everyone keeps a healthy distance between one another; where my blood pressure doesn’t rise every time I walk through the halls of Fanshawe’s main campus, my shoulders no longer tensed up to my ears. A world where everyone’s bubble is bigger than my own! This imaginary world of course does not account for Covidiots. Nor does it account for the engrained social cues and habits of Canadians.

And those grandiose hopes I had of a perfect silver lining to this anxiety-ridden soul-crushing pandemic existence — well those hopes have been sorely and completely dashed.

Navigator. Londons student lifestyles magazine.

But, herein lies a new dilemma. Pre-pandemic, I just sucked it up; I sat, or rather walked in my uncomfortableness and got to where I needed to be as fast as I could, slow-walking obstacles and all. And where possible, I had this sneaky, virtually undetectable habit of taking a small step back to create a little more space. However, due to the fact that six feet is much larger than most of us realize, the formerly unnoticeable single-step motion had to evolve into a multiple-step maneuver and has become very perceptible to others. And because we are a social species with a psychological need to be close to one another, this noticeable movement often triggers a sort of follow response and the other person will often times take a step closer to fill the gap.

Things are different now. This isn’t just about me being uncomfortable with a social norm. This is about reducing the transmission of a deadly virus that we still don’t fully understand. And that social norm that people have been used to for their entire lives is a very hard habit to break. So, when someone steps a little too close, how exactly does one go about asking for that person to step the f*** back?

This obviously meant that I was going to have to get outside my comfort zone, and fast. For someone like me, the first step was accepting the fact that I will more than likely offend a few people in my efforts to maintain physical distancing and more importantly to make my personal boundaries known. The second step is mustering up the courage to say to someone — be it a friend, co-worker, classmate, acquaintance or stranger — that I do in fact believe they are standing too close and it is making me uncomfortable. Imagine that… stating my needs out loud to another human being instead of bottling them up all day every day, wondering if today’s the day I finally lose my goddamn mind (if you can’t tell, putting my needs above politeness is a bit of a work in progress).

Here are a few suggestions on how to go about the sometimes-awkward task of maintaining physical distancing:

The polite method:

“Let’s stay safe. Please keep your distance.”

The bro method:

“You’re standing a bit close their bud, do you mind stepping back a bit?”

The passive aggressive method:

“Oh, am I in your way? No? I just assumed because of how close you’re standing.”

The assertive method:

“Please step back, you’re standing too close.”

The fearmongering method:

“You might want to take a step back, I think I’ve got the ‘rona.”

The aggressive method:

“Would you kindly step the f*** back?”

The yelling method:


Clearly a few of these are for comic relief only, but you get the point. Just make it clear that you are uncomfortable and don’t assume the person is intentionally invading your space, they’re probably just oblivious. The more polite you go about it, the less confrontational the situation will be. And for those who are blatantly and deliberately defying the regulations; well karma’s a bitch and coronavirus is her current weapon of choice

Practice makes perfect, so hop to it! And while you’re at it, the next time you see a Covidiot with their mask below their nose or under their chin, use this opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society and politely tell them how to wear a damn mask.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.