Keep your distance? 保持距离

2020-03-31 13:48:56

Reader question:

Please explain "keep our distance, in a good way", as in: Life in quarantine for the coronavirus forces everyone to learn to keep their distance, in a good way.

My comments:

The seasoned English learner probably understands what's behind the phrase "keep your distance".

If a gentleman (in an Victorian-era novel, for example) tells a commoner to always know to "keep your distance", the gentleman is really ordering the commoner to know his place, i.e. his low place in society. By ordering the commoner to keep his distance, the gentleman is telling the latter to stop acting in any way that may suggest they're familiar or close or friendly.

Class difference makes such familiarity or closeness or friendliness between the two quite inappropriate. Strict professionalism must be observed at all times.

In other words, the gentleman is talking about social propriety, propriety of a kind. Especially among what's known as polite society, people give others space or privacy.

We Chinese are not known for giving each other space or privacy, at least this was the case in the past. In the past, in close-knit communities such as quadrangle courtyards in Beijing or any village in the countryside, people were really onto each other, like, everyone was into each other's business and totally without guard or fuss.

When I was young, for instance, we literally knew what our neighbours were having for dinner.


Because we often went into their kitchen and took an inspection for ourselves.

Without knocking on the door first, either.

And if they were having jiaozi, it was quite probable that we took a few too.

Nobody minded, back in the day.

Today, of course, living in high rises, we don't even know who all our neighbours are, not to mention what they're up to.

Youngsters today, when you hear them talk about it, get angry at things like their parents not knocking on the door first before entering their bedroom.

In the old days, well, we didn't have our own bedroom to begin with, so that was not a problem for us at all.

Anyways, it is often cited as a sign of progress for people to learn to keep their proper distances from each other, and not just physically, either. Nowadays, it's proper that we do not, for example, ask how much money people make the first time we meet them.

Do not ask how much they make the second time you meet them, either.

Do not ask, ever.

Do not ask, period.

Again, in the old days, nobody minded if you asked anyone how much they made.

Not much, probably, at any rate.

At any rate, it is a kind of progress, emphasis on kind of, for us to keep our distance and respect and give each other space and privacy.

Well, for better or worse.

Here are media examples of the phrase "keep one's distance", both physically and in a figurative sense:

1. When news broke earlier this year that famous movie producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women, it took a little while for female actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Ashley Judd to explain what exactly happened behind the scenes. Now, Nicole Kidman is finally addressing what it was really like to work with the 66-year-old.

Harvey and Nicole made several movies together like The Hours, Cold Mountain, and Lion and fortunately, she insists the producer never abused her on set. Luckily, her exchanges with him were “intermittent.” However, he would try to control what the actress could say while she was promoting a film. She told Variety, “He would get angry. My recollection of Harvey was never anything other than ‘Nicole, do this.’ I purposely kept my distance.”

The 51-year-old has been in the entertainment industry for quite some time, so she knows that it can be a dark place. Even with the #MeToo movement, Nicole says that progress still needs to be made. She said, “I think it’s still going to be a long road. Things don’t change overnight. We know that, and it’s important to keep reiterating that, because what happens is people go, ‘Oh, well. That’s done.’ This is serious stuff that needs to be dealt with for years and years to actually really shift it.”

- Nicole Kidman Reflects On Frequent Employer Harvey Weinstein: ‘I Purposely Kept My Distance’,, November 29, 2018.

2. Despite a strong start to 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite, and the S&P 500 are all in negative territory for the year. What's more, these three major indices have each fallen by over 10% in the past 30 days.

But if history is any guide, this SARS-CoV-2 induced sell-off should turn out be one heck of a buying opportunity. Some of the biggest gains in history, after all, have been made by savvy investors who bought stocks when everyone else was selling. The financial crisis of 2008 drives this point home.

The brave souls that bought shares of high-quality companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) following the market's collapse on Sep. 29, 2008 have made out like bandits. Shares of Apple and Amazon have each generated total returns on capital of well over 2,000% in the intervening 11-plus years.

Now, the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak will certainly have a negative impact on corporate earnings this year, but there's almost no chance that this virus will evolve into the same kind of existential threat to capitalism that was the financial crisis of 2008. Therefore, long-term oriented investors probably shouldn't be afraid to go bargain hunting right now.


Pfizer's annualized dividend yield presently stands at 4.3%. The drugmaker's shares are also valued on the lower end of the spectrum for a big pharma, at 12.7 times forward-looking earnings. Nonetheless, Pfizer has been a big disappointment for investors in 2020. Ever since the drugmaker announced plans to carve out its generic drug business into a stand-alone unit, investors have kept their distance.

- The coronavirus induced sell-off has created a number of attractive buying opportunities,, March 8, 2020.

3. President Trump’s push to cut the payroll tax as part of an effort to revive the economy is facing steep headwinds on Capitol Hill.

Trump has spent days making the pitch publicly, as well as privately, as Washington is under growing pressure to try to shore up the stock market, which has plummeted this week over growing concerns about the growing coronavirus outbreak.

House Democrats are set to unveil an economic response package that does not include a payroll tax cut. Meanwhile, Senate reactions range from deep skepticism to, in some cases, outright opposition, raising questions about whether a plan could ever reach Trump’s desk.

"I know that’s in the conversation … I would prefer they exercise other options before going down that path,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, while caveating that it's “too early” to make decisions on legislation.


Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said the “path of least resistance” would be the administration and states focusing on steps they can take unilaterally or using resources they already have, before trying to get something through Congress.

"The quickest way to get relief to American families is using existing authorities and existing funds,” Johnson said, asked if he supported a payroll tax cut. “Rather than trying to get something through this place.”

Asked if he could support a payroll tax cut, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he wants to see what gets proposed because “here’s a lot of things bandied around.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) similarly kept his distance from the idea.

"I think the details matter. I would be willing to consider it, but the details matter,” he added. “Not the least of which is how you're going to shore back up the Social Security trust fund, if you have a payroll tax holiday.”

- Congress pours cold water on Trump's payroll tax cut,, March 11, 2020.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)