Face Masks and the Power of Culture

Have you been wearing your face mask when you go out?

I ask because when I was out and about (wearing mine) I felt a mixture of emotions.

  • PRIDE that I was doing my part, small as it was;
  • FEAR that maybe I had misunderstood the reports and I was perhaps over reacting; and
  • EMBARRASSMENT; this was rather weird, after all.

Then, I realized this whole mask issue was a perfect great good example of a classic cultural difference. I suddenly felt ELATED that I had a topic for my next blog post. And  here we are.

Thank you Novel Coronavirus.

You know it’s cultural when a whole society (group, country, family, organization) is doing it and no one really thinks about (or cares) why.  (To be distinguished from individual idiosyncrasies/eccentricities and universal norms that everyone adopts.)

 

A recent headline in the New York Times emphasizes I’m not the only one thinking about this:

“The Trump administration remains deeply divided over whether to tell all Americans to cover their faces in public to stop the spread of coronavirus,” it read.

Click on the photo for the link to the article.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/us/politics/coronavirus-white-house-face-masks.html?referringSource=articleShare

 

This is not a post on the importance of wearing a mask. Instead, I intend to treat you to a real-life example of what it feels like to come face to face with a cultural difference that we don’t usually think about.

Yes, face-to-face. I recognize the irony.

I’ve found that when we don’t understand the power of culture and the role it plays in our everyday life, we seek to blame our inevitable discomfort on someone else — their poor decision, their ignorance, their existence — or the idea itself.  At its extreme, it’s at the core of xenophobia, but for everyday folks, it makes it easier to leave the mask off.

Indeed it is.

Americans, by and large, do not like to be told what to do. American culture, generally thought to be at the individualistic end of the continuum — rugged individualism some have called it, calling forth images of the myth of our western cowboy — is working against us in this fight.

It’s time to step back and remember we are all in this together. I will be safer if you are also safe. I will be healthier if you are also healthy. And so on.

How about you? How comfortable are you with this face mask on-or-off question? 

41 Responses

  1. Carolyn
    | Reply

    It is interesting that there is such a debate over wearing or not. The major view from British medics seems to be that face masks are only useful if you have the virus but surely one shouldn’t be walking around outside if you have. (Although there isn’t any testing for us to know whether we have it.) Most masks available to the public seem to have a very small amount of protection for a short period. Where we are shopping I have more faith in social distancing and perspex screens for the staff, especially when many of the mask-wearers seem to think they are invulnerable and barge past you without respecting personal spaces. The question for me is: “Will we ever know how we should be acting now and in future pandemics?”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That’s interesting to hear what your medics are saying, Carolyn. “face masks are only useful if you have the virus” My understanding is that there are MANY asymptomatic folks walking around contagious. Are they saying about that? That’s what’s driving me a bit batty over all this; there is not one voice (certainly not here in this country), I’ve been told the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has edited their website to be more in keeping with administration edicts. I’m also hearing that the face masks the common folk (folks like you and I) wear are for keeping our germs IN, rather than keeping their germs out. Important when you think of all those contagious asymptomatic folks walking around. They also help keep us from touching our face, theoretically. But now I’ve forgotten where I heard that. I keep saying, “we’ll know more in two weeks.” And again, that’s what I fall back on. Thanks for starting us off.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

      • Carolyn
        | Reply

        It seems it is belated realisation that people can be asymptomatic but then we are all being confused by the mixed messages being sent out from all directions. I’d be a lot happier if the only information came from medical sources and our government let them get on with it. We were slow to go into lockdown because the men at the top thought they could interpret the situation rather than study what had happened in countries like Italy and Spain. Ah well, social distancing and limiting trips to shop seem to be my only course

  2. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I don´t wear a face mask when I go for groceries. But there aren´t many people around and everyone keeps their distance. Our severe lockdown here in Spain is working as there are fewer cases and deaths every day. I wrote about my experiences in Spain as a guest on another blog. https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/2020/04/04/views-of-covid-19-thailand-mexico-spain-and-australia/

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I caught that post, as you know, Darlene, and was glad to be able to read how this virus is impacting other countries. I shared it too on my FB Author Page (the one that deals with other countries and cultures). I recommend the post to all of my readers. Thanks for adding the link. (though, if you use the CommentLuv feature, it’ll provide the link itself). Do you see it?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  3. susan scott
    | Reply

    To mask or not to mask, that is the question. So far I haven’t left my home in about 2 weeks now. Our son Michael who has his own home about 10 mins away has done some shopping for us and delivered, wearing a mask and hand sanitiser in ongoing use. We wipe down the goods before packing away. I want to go out now to deliver some unused curtains with backing to a drop off point so material can be used for making masks. But the major point you make Janet about how protecting ones self protects others and that we’re in this together in our isolation, is pretty much how I feel about this … thank you ..

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Susan. I am feeling a sense of solidarity when I’m out with my mask on and see other masked folks. I’m expecting that will overcome the embarrassment soon enough.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  4. Heather Alger
    | Reply

    Honestly, the mask situation makes me just downright sad. In the country of so many resources, we have community members making cotton face masks and the CDC is actually recommending we wear them. I will wear one, but scientifically they are ineffectual. That we have no choice but to continue to be caught up in this grand farce of protocol completely breaks my heart.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Well, I imagine it depends on how you’d measure effectiveness. Certainly, they’ll not protect any of us from catching the virus; I understand that. I guess I’m thinking more in terms of taking care in case I’m one of those asymptomatic walking contagions. And, I have recently learned I tend to touch my face ALL THE TIME. Who knew! Thanks for adding your voice here, Heather. You’re always welcome.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  5. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    With several autoimmune problems I don’t dare go to the store. Thank heavens for delivery—I have a cooler in the garage and they leave the stuff out there and I leave their tip out there also. I just started curbside pick up and although I bought masks I haven’t used them yet. I have some coming that have the charcoal filters so will probably use those. When I pick up medicine I grab it with a washcloth (no sense wasting paper towels) and put it and the cloth in a clean bag—everything goes in the wash when I get home. I also wear gloves when I go to the drivethru at the bank and after putting the tube back I take the gloves off and put them in a trash bag—so I haven’t really been using the mask yet but I don’t go out among people and the curbside people wear masks.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Back when I was in nursing school (one year; it makes me rather dangerous actually), we were constantly taught about “sterile field technique.” Your explanation of how you maneuver tells me you’d definitely get an A+ Take care down there, Susan. I’m curious if Florida has the same extent of winter flu season that we in the north have? Any idea?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  6. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I too feel ambivalent about wearing a mask. I think it’s more important to wash my hands often. We even sanitize packages from the grocery store. This week I’ve taken walks, done housework, attended two Zoom meet-ups with my writers’ group and Pilates class. So far this week, I haven’t gone to a store, but I may need to today.

    My thought: If you wear a dirty mask, it won’t help. Before I put on the mask I usually use to prevent allergies working in the garden, I sprayed it with Lysol.

    Staying home is probably the best deterrent at this point. Going out? Keep your distance. Smile with your eyes – ha!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…April Hosts Mennonite Daughter in April!My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Marian. You remind me of something I’ve wondered about. If we are staying in, say three weeks so far, no outside contact, do we still have to wash our hands so often? Or is that just for the folks who go outside, who interact with the public, who live in urban areas? There are so many advice videos coming out, but I’m never quite sure who they are speaking to. It does seem there should be a distinction between rural, isolated loners and urban sophisticates who take the subway. No? And you have Lysol? Send me one?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

      • Marian Beaman
        | Reply

        😀
        Marian Beaman recently posted…April Hosts Mennonite Daughter in April!My Profile

      • Sharon Lippincott
        | Reply

        Janet, just use comman sense about washing hands. If you haven’t gone out, why would you need to wash more than you ordinarily do. IMO, common sense is rather lacking in this whole thing. Common sense to me means listening to the most reliable medical experts and ignoring the background noise, i.e. anything coming out of the White House. It means doing what we’ve always know to be effective at staying well: keep away from sick people and keep our hands clean.

        In this case, being that both of us are well above the “high risk group” threshold, we are just staying home. We’re into our fourth week now and aside from three or four trips to the grocery store (we only go one at a time, and no place else), we have not been around other people at all. Not family, not self-isolating friends.

        Common sense means wearing a mask because if I don’t wear one, I’m giving others permission to not wear one, and who knows who is going to cough or sneeze near me. If I wouldn’t have uprotected sex with a stranger, why would I breathe unprotected air any time soon? I do believe these masks also provide significant protection for me from unmasked, asymptomatic people. After experimenting with both designs, I found that the shaped design gives us a tighter fit than fan-fold ones, and credible reports show that the high-density cotton tea towel fabric I’ve used as lining gives something like 70% protection, about as good as the simple surgical masks.

        I don’t care about debates in the White House. I have rolled my eyes at the Presidential refusal to set an example and beyond that, tuned them out. Maybe the near universal donning of face masks in Austin is due to the fact that our mayor declared them to be mandatory, but they went on in a flash. Within two days after the edict, about 90% of everyone at my grocery store had one on. I have to believe those without must have been self-conscious!

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Hi Sharon. I loved when you said, “ Common sense means wearing a mask because if I don’t wear one, I’m giving others permission to not wear one, and who knows who is going to cough or sneeze near me. ” our brilliant seamstress niece in Seattle is making us new masks, she even requested measurements! I can’t wait to parade it out when it comes.
          Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  7. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    I’ve not been inside in a store for weeks and I’ve no plans to go into one anytime soon. Thus I’ve not been worried about whether to wear a face mask, aka bandana, or not. If wearing one makes a person feel safer, then do it. If wearing one encumbers your ability to grab groceries and get out of the store quickly, then I don’t know that it is helping you– or anyone else. Now washing your hands, that I know is helping, but the mask thing… I dunno.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Flowers Of Yellow Make Me Feel Mellow When Words Escape MeMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Three weeks! I expected that’d be my story too when I started (March 13). I’m aware how easily I “make exceptions.” I was wearing gloves last Sunday when I was shopping (with said mask) and found I picked up what turned out to be a really bad melon — not yet ripe (Who can sniff it with the mask on? Who can feel it with the gloves on!). My next foray will be to the nearby Coop. We’re out of olive oil! Now there’s a post topic — what are you running low on?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

      • Ally Bean
        | Reply

        We’re good on everything. We’re using Kroger online ordering and pickup, so as long as we plan ahead, we’ve got what we need. Never thought I’d use that service, but I’m adaptable. And like to eat.

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Oh there is that old habit — eating. We don’t have grocery store delivery, but they do offer curbside pick up (a misnomer, I write more about next week). I’m glad you and yours are faring well, but then I knew that you were, thanks your entertaining weekly posts.

  8. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — Len and I both wear masks when we go out. When we get back home, we hold our masks (inside and outside) over our diffuser that has tea tree oil in it (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral). And of course, we wash our hands on a continual basis.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So that’s what tea tree oil does! I have it in my shampoo (I wonder why now). Thanks for joining us, Laurie, and telling us about life in Boise these days. Are’t we lucky that we can get outside?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  9. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    Due to my fractured leg, I’ve only been out of my house since January 27 to go to doctor’s appointments and that trip back to the hospital for the subsequent blood clot diagnosis. I had to go to the doctor’s office yesterday for some blood tests. In preparation for that rare outing, my sister made face masks for the two of us out of tee shirt fabric and rubber bands like the US Surgeon General demonstrated several days ago. We were quite proud of ourselves. The waiting room at my doctor’s office was empty when I arrived except for one other patient. He sort of stared at me when I came in with my walker, but I didn’t think much about. When the nurse called his name a few minutes later, he almost stopped in front of me and I realized that his stare had turned into a glare. He was not wearing a mask but I was. I had the distinct feeling that he thought I was wearing the mask because I was sick. That gave me a funny feeling, but I felt vindicated when the physician’s assistant thanked me and even asked if I’d made it after seeing the Surgeon General make one on TV. She said she only gets one mask to wear for an entire week. I felt like I was doing my patriotic duty by wearing my cloth mask, but I didn’t see anyone else out on the street wearing a mask — not even at a city bus stop. I’m afraid a lot of people just don’t get it or are too vain to wear one. I did learn something: You will feel silly if you put lipstick on before putting on your mask. Nevertheless, since I could have the virus but not yet have any symptoms, I’ll continue to wear a mask when I have to go out in public to protect others. I’m well aware that my cloth mask is not protecting me. It’s to protect those around me.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, exactly. Thank you Janet for being so clear. It is curious (though, really, not) how much confusion there has been. And thank you for your the lipstick laugh. I laughed out loud, then had to read it aloud as my husband got curious.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  10. Clive
    | Reply

    Our government isn’t convinced of the need to wear masks, but then their reaction to this whole crisis has been almost as slow and ineffective as yours! When your President advises you to wear one, and in the next breath says that he won’t, what should you do? But it’s comforting for us Brits to know that he thinks our response has been ‘catastrophic.’ Pot, kettle…
    Clive recently posted…Tuesday Tunes 3My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Clive. Our two countries have seen eye to eye on most things since we finally figured it out circa 1812. :). At least your Queen gave a sensible and sensitive address to us all (I listened in; hope that’s ok). How’s your PM doing?

  11. Jenny Cressman
    | Reply

    I have mixed feelings about mask wearing, and it seems many others do too, from public health officials to folks in the ‘hood.

    Two days ago, CBC news reported: “Dr. Theresa Tam, the top doctor at the Public Health Agency of Canada, suggested using non-medical masks when out grocery shopping or at a pharmacy. However, she noted the mask protects people around the mask wearer, not necessarily the person wearing it.”

    Yesterday, I had to get some groceries, so I thought I would try a mask. Quite a few people entering the store were initially masked but, as I shopped, I began noticing more and more naked faces. I suspect people were peeling them off once inside. Why not? They’re hot! And, our little town has only one confirmed case of CV-19, as far as I know.

    That’s the issue, though, as I see it – there are a lot of unknowns. We don’t know if we’ve crossed paths with an infected person (not just someone with an infectious personality!) and we won’t know for up to two weeks if we have this sneaky virus. In that time, we could be spewing contagious droplets willy-nilly! While it’s usually nice to share, I don’t want to go viral.

    So, I wore a make-shift mask, nearly over-heated and touched my face more than usual because I had to keep adjusting the darned thing. As soon as I was out of the store, I stripped it off. Would I wear a mask on another grocery foray? Probably. However, I would need one with a better design, or perhaps just a trusty bandana!
    Jenny Cressman recently posted…Great expectations and Cuban travelMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you Jenny. I really appreciate it when folks from other lands weigh in here. It’s those asymptomatic folks who are the big wild card. And I’d hate to learn I was one and hadn’t worn my mask. I’m thinking more and more it’s a solidarity thing —- An outward symbol we are all in this together.

  12. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Wearing (mask) is caring! <3

  13. Arlene Smith
    | Reply

    I have to say that, as a Canadian, I sometimes find American “rugged individualism” vexing. We love you guys, we want you to go back to being the heroes! (Please go back to being the heroes.)
    There are times when a stubborn determination to not be told by others what to do comes across – to people outside of your country – not as individualism but as lack of compassion.
    I think that people who choose to wear masks are thinking outside of themselves, taking into consideration that they could be doing some small thing to protect others, and that’s a kindness. That’s heroic.
    Arlene Smith recently posted…Sacraments: Letting Go and WaitingMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You’ve hit on some fundamental, important cultural differences, Arlene, and I thank you. Have you seen an older video called “Canadian road rage?” To an American, it’s hilarious. You can find a few of them on YouTube. Here’s the link to the one I remember. It’s short.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds2zZQS3pbI

      I’ve long been fascinated by why it is that we of the USA are so different from Canadians on that front (though it could happen). Our histories seem not that much different on the surface anyway. But thanks for a bit of validation that others do see us in a particular way (with recognition for individual idiosyncrasies, of course). We are not known, certainly, for being communally focused. Heck, think of the outrage over poor Bernie’s simple commendation of Cuban literacy. But I wonder if that may well change with this virus. The level of overt generosity I’m seeing is dramatic and real. We want to help. As I got saying during my years in Peace Corps: Time will tell. My thanks for adding an interesting and important note.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Face Masks and the Power of CultureMy Profile

  14. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    Hi Janet. I wanted to give you a heads up to check your email, in case you don’t check it often. I know some people who don’t. I’m writing about your book, LEAPFROG in my April 13 blog post along with a book I read last month about the moral majority and the chasm in our country when it comes to political views. I’ve attached to my email to you a copy of my blog post as it is currently written. In the email, I am asking for your feedback. For one thing, I don’t want to overstep and quote too much from your book. Please let me know by Sunday night if there are parts you want me to delete or word differently — or, if you approve of what I’ve written. Thank you!

  15. Joan Rough
    | Reply

    I have no problem wearing a mask. If it keeps me and you healthy, why not? It’s a win-win situation.

    I went out for the first time wearing a face covering. I was not bothered by the mask. I was bothered by all of the traffic on the road, many drivers without masks and wondering where is everyone going? It frightened me at first, wondering if we really will get through this. Then I just let the worry go and allowed myself to comfortable with who I am and what I’m trying to do the help.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I recall when I was out wearing my mask last Sunday How quickly I judged the first shopper I saw without a mask. I was surprised at myself. Then I found my curiosity about what he was thinking. I’d have asked him, but he wasn’t wearing a mask. Ironic I realize. Thanks Joan.

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