29 Nov 2021

The Return of the Mask

From tomorrow, mask-wearing is mandatory once again in shops and on public transport. This response to the new Omicron variant will be met with mixed reactions. For the more nervous, Covid-conscious amongst us, it will be a welcome return to certainty – the guidelines are unambiguous and the case for wearing a mask appears unassailable. These are people who will have found the confused messaging and free-for-all response of the last few months distressing.

Inevitably, however, there are many people who will regard the return of masks with dismay, and who will feel deeply resistant to the return of government-imposed constraints on our behaviour. They will moan about the discomfort, the muffled semi-inaudible voices, the steamed-up glasses, and the fact that our streets look like they are populated by extras from a sinister medical drama.

Whatever our feelings, masks are back, and it is only considerate for us to comply with the new guidelines. Good manners are about doing out utmost to make our fellow human beings feel comfortable, and we therefore must accept that  – at a time when many people are feeling nervous about the Covid threat – wearing a mask will help to allay some of that anxiety.

Inevitably, there will be people who do not comply and feel that it is their right to make a stand against this kind of behavioural control. As a mask-wearer, this might make you feel angry or extremely nervous. But remember, non-mask wearers may well be exempt and therefore entirely justified in their non-compliance.

Think carefully before confronting people. If it is at all possible to move away, and put a safe social distance between you, then do so – in instances like this, discretion is the better part of valour, and you will want to avoid unpleasant confrontations. If you are really stuck next to a non-mask-wearer and feel you have no choice, have a quiet word with the offender (no grandstanding or public denunciations). You can simply say, ‘I’m sorry, I feel very uncomfortable when I have to stand near people who aren’t wearing masks. Would you mind wearing one?’.

Remember that mask-wearing means mask-wearing – no mask is going to serve its function if it is cradling your chin, or sitting pointlessly underneath your nose. Many people will find your insouciance about planting your mask in these unhelpful positions deeply provocative.

Ensure that when you remove single-use masks they are disposed of safely – that means in a closed bin, if possible. Never contribute to the litter problem in our streets by simply dropping used masks on the ground.

Accept that, for the time being, mask-wearing is a fact of life. The more automatic it becomes, and the less you obsess about it, the more comfortable you will find it. 

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