Sydney: September 13 has passed, it’s time to picnic with friends again.

(If you’re fully vaxxed. And if you live outside of an LGA of concern. And if the weather is good. This author is currently picnic-ineligible.)

Still though, at this point, in week-whatever-it-is of lockdown, we’ll take what we can get. And trust me, as someone who went through The Great Spring of Picnics in Melbourne last year (October 2020 – end of October 2020), I can guarantee you that – for a hot second at least – Sydney is about to start picknicking its sweet arse off.

But with the return of social interaction comes the potential for awkwardness, faux pas and petty friendship-group politics – especially because, let’s be honest, we’re all a little bit rusty at the whole talking-to-other-people thing.

Coincidentally, I wrote a similar article a year ago, when I was living in Melbourne. It felt like it was the start of the path back to normal. But this was back when the word “Delta” made you think of the seminal cultural touchstone Hating Alison Ashley.

Now, a year on, my new home in Sydney has the unhappy distinction of being Australia’s Covid capital. So I’ve dusted off the etiquette guide once more to help us navigate the rough entry into the silly world of social politics.

Spring is here and Sydney is nowhere close to normal. Our only way to socialise is to meet up in a park to eat and drink. But the weather is unfortunately unpredictable (sorry Bureau of Meteorology, I choose not to believe in you). The forecast only gets you in the ballpark of what weather to expect. If you want a sunny picnic, you need to be prepared to drop. Everything. For. It.

Because when the weather’s good, your local park will become a Seurat painting – or a scene straight out of a cottagecore mood board. Believe me, if you weren’t starved of human connect, you’d find it hilarious. Instead, it'll warm your heart.

Being enslaved to the whims of Sydney’s climate inevitably means there are fewer picnic-appropriate days in any given week. This makes our time more precious: picnics need to be planned about a week in advance and need to involve seeing as many people as possible (within the restrictions, of course).

Good luck pulling something together on the day unless you’re Ferris Bueller-level popular. Spontaneity is a luxury of the past – plan, plan, plan. We all need to plan now. Pencil in that fun and let your scheduling-nerd flag fly. Here’s how:

Monday: Feeler text to the group chat, suss everyone’s availability. Tuesday: Cool it a bit. Wednesday: “Weather’s looking good for the weekend – we could be on for Friday?” Thursday: “Where should we meet?” Friday: “What time tonight? Early knock-off?” Planning a successful picnic is a week-long process. Follow my system or proceed at your own peril.

Trust me, more picnic politics kick off once you actually get to the park.

Expect your friends to become oddly competitive on the snacks front – that classic supermarket duet of hummus and Sweet Chilli Philly might not be up to snuff anymore (don’t shoot the messenger here, I’m just speaking hard truths).

Maybe we’re just trying to prove to ourselves that we’re still capable of entertaining. There’s no better way to dust off the social cobwebs than by demonstrating that, despite weeks in hard lockdown, you can still knock up a killer antipasto board. When done correctly, this can be a serious power move. Last year, one of my colleagues literally brought an oyster platter to her first picnic. An oyster platter. I can only assume this cemented her position as top dog of her friendship group, at least for the rest of the picnic season.

Another issue: because there’s a finite number of parks within our five-kilometre radiuses, you’re bound to run into folks you know from your pre-lockdown local. So, what do you do if you lock eyes with a chum who didn’t quite make your five-person cut-off? Or – heaven help you – how do you respond if you see a rival picnic that you either blew off or didn’t cop an invite to? The situation is fraught, my friends.

The solution to overcoming the social politics and awkwardness is simple – and has been staring us right in our masked faces this whole time: just blame Covid-19. For everything. It’s easy. I do it, like, every day. Someone stroppy they didn’t get invited to your picnic? Say it’s Gladys’s fault. Don’t feel like sauntering over to small talk with that picnic of snooty nemeses? Don’t worry – it’s probably not Covid-safe anyway. Can’t find it within yourself to hug that mate who’s always too touchy-feely? Elbow bump the goober to the curb.

Everyone in this town should use the novel coronavirus as the social scapegoat it is. Let’s exploit it, I say. Steer into the skid and play this once-in-a-lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card. Blame the pandemic for every klutzy comment, invite snub, flubbed joke delivery, and foot-in-mouth faux pas you can. It’s the ultimate awkwardness amnesty, and it’s the least we deserve.

Planning a picnic? These might help
Park Life: How to Perfect the Minimum-Fuss Picnic
Seven To Try: Packs, Hampers and Spreads for Sydney’s Return of the Picnic
Sydney’s Best Picnic Sites

See NSW Health for the latest Covid-19 rules and updates.