A World Less Certain | Mask Etiquette

The ultimate mask of shame is not wearing one

The Dark Side of the Force is stronger than the Light Side, but it is corrupt and will weaken over time. The Jedi are leaders and peacekeepers. Help them destroy the fallen Jedi, Darth Vader’s evil COVID-19, by wearing your mask.

Peeper People

More and more of us are wearing masks. “Peeper people” are everywhere. Their eyes rest on top of the square cloth patch that covers their nose and mouth.

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Trying to talk with our masks on makes our voices sound like the parents of the Peanut’s cartoon characters. No worries. Most people will respond positively to anything that sounds friendly.

My wife has family in Japan, so we visit there often. In Tokyo, it’s common to see people of all ages wearing masks – commuter trains, city streets, and workplaces. Mask etiquette is part of their culture. They’ve been doing it for decades.

In the United States, my face is one of the faceless now. Peeper people go for walks. Behind our masks, we could be smiling, grimacing, frowning, or making a variety of other expressions. No one sticks their tongue out or makes motorboat sounds wearing a mask. That’s gross.

Out and About

The City of Beverly Hills is taking strict measures to protect their tax base. They recently passed a citywide ordinance making it mandatory for residents and visitors to wear a face-covering at all times in public. Beverly Hills is throwing down the gauntlet: older people with money mustn’t die before their time!

The rest of us have a choice to make.

Now that I wear a mask, I resent the people who don’t – especially the road hog bicyclists who ride side-by-side while chatting nonstop. They disregard social distancing without wearing masks. Because their conversation is so damn important to them, their bikes take up half the lane (nearly the entire lane when they pass parked cars). They pissed me off before the pandemic – I loathe them now.

Chain-smoking is a significant health risk before the pandemic. My mother has emphysema from years of smoking 3-4 packs of Kent 100s daily. In her condition, leaving the house is tantamount to a death sentence. It’s hard for her to wear a mask because it further complicates her labored breathing. Family members fear their visit will give her the Coronavirus. Mom stays indoors at home – living a self-quarantine lifestyle – perhaps for the remaining days of her life.

Achieving Proper Fit

Your mask must fit your face securely. All three breathing holes need to be covered simultaneously. You don’t want to be caught with your mask down and your nose standing at attention.

Now, breathe deep. You will experience a hint of suffocation. Exhale. You will feel your hot breath on your face and notice the fogging of your glasses. Your nose will twitch from the sour odor. This means your mask is a good fit, and you probably need to brush more often. Facts are facts, your breath stinks when you’re hungry and sometimes after a meal. Perhaps you just ate a polish dog with extra sauerkraut and mustard. If so, you’ll fart a lot. Good thing you’re wearing a mask!

Again, be sure the mask fits snuggly over mouth and nose – the suffocation feeling is normal.

Something to think about: Social distancing and wearing a mask in public helps keep people safe during the pandemic. Coronavirus primarily attacks the respiratory system. Don’t steal the breath from the weak and elderly by selfishly indulging your desire to breathe without restriction.

Eyes of Summer

Peeper people can’t tell what’s going on behind another person’s mask. Is there even a face behind it? As we get closer to summer, wearing sunglasses will make eye contact impossible. Friend or foe, who can tell?

Creepy Neighbor

Now you can avoid the creepy neighbor who frequently violates your personal space. Before the pandemic, you may have accepted this abhorrent behavior. Now you can plant your pivot foot and turnabout. Walk swiftly in the opposite direction. Don’t worry about the social fallout. You’re in the business of saving lives – first and foremost, your own.

Friendly Neighbor

If you’re the cordial type, you probably hold doors open for others and make a friendly gesture as others pass by during walks. Now, though, since you can’t see their mouth or eyes, you must assume that your friend-dar antenna no longer works properly. Here’s what you do: wave your hand like a Rose Parade Queen on steroids, and say “hello.” No one will point at you and scream like in the 1978 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Welcome Jedi, you’re now part of the Light Side of the Force.


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.