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I'm Asian, so it's natural for me to wear a mask in public. Where I grew up, it's really common to wear a mask in public transports, particularly in winter, when more people have a cold. When I started living in Europe, I stopped wearing a mask since no one was wearing it, and I got a cold more often – nothing bad, but annoying. During the pandemic, everyone masked up, including me, and I didn't get a cold in winter.

Anyway, now people don't treat COVID as a threat anymore, and thus no one masks up in public. I still wear them in bus and train, but some (many) people give me a weird look. Some even shake their head and my colleagues laugh at me. I become self-conscious wearing a mask in public, but I really feel better wearing one. I feel it's unfair that people can smoke without being considered weird (although the cigarette smoke would annoy a non-smoker), but when someone is wearing a mask, which is not disturbing anyone, that person is considered to be an alien or a hypochondriac.

I'm travelling around Europe and in the U.S. until the end of this year, and I'd like to wear a mask in public, but dreading the double take or snide remarks people would give me. I'm curious, what do you really think about people wearing a mask in public? Is it really that weird?

EDIT: Thanks for the many inputs!

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    – Willeke
    Aug 30, 2023 at 12:58

16 Answers 16

64

Wear the mask when you feel the need. It is unfortunate that people sometimes react that way but they do with many other things than masks too. Too bad that few people outside of Asia understand than when you wear a mask it is even more for their protection than yours. You can't make a health decision based on whether some will look at you strangely.

You'll just have to ignore the poor reactions and it feels odd at first but the more you do it, the easier it will get.

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    – JoErNanO
    Aug 31, 2023 at 11:28
29

NYC here.

I usually wear a mask in crowded spaces - NYC mass transit, airplanes, airports, grocery stores, and the like. I got into this habit during COVID, and haven't stopped yet.

On NYC subway, the % of people wearing masks seems to be 10-30 as of 2023, and isn't clearly correlated to being Asian. Display signs say masks are no longer required, but still encouraged. (https://new.mta.info/safetravels )

I also visited another (remote, Red) state recently, where masks appeared much less common than guns, or than masks in NYC, but didn't notice any strange looks.


Edit: I see a few misconceptions in the other answers and comments about mask wearing in the U.S. and the possible reactions, which I feel obligated to comment on, but my rant is far too long for a comment.

I've been wearing a (cloth) mask in crowded places since December 2019, when it became clear that COVID was coming to NYC soon, and haven't stopped as of 2023. I had some hostile reactions to the mask in 2020 and to my wearing a respirator back in 2001 (details below), but not since. I'd be rather surprised if you encounter any stares or comments as of this writing (2023).

Prior to COVID, I wore a (cloth) mask during the several SARS and related scares. No one ever commented.

Many people, often East Asian, routinely wore masks on NYC subways for years, before COVID, and no one ever commented.

Further, back in 2001-2002, I had a job in an office right next door to where the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001. The stench in the air was just indescribable. The rubble, mixed with rotting dead bodies, paper, plastic, and construction materials was on fire for 4 months. So I got a $10 respirator that some artists use while painting, and wore that whenever I was outdoors, just to escape that horrible smell. No one thought about any health consequences. No one was aware of the asbestos and other poisons in the air. So, back then, some people in the streets did point fingers at my little respirator, called me a coward, and encouraged me to "man up", and take it off. My response was that a coward wouldn't be coming to the office in the first place. 20 years later I don't have respiratory issues, but too many people who inhaled that asbestos and other bad stuff in the air now do.

Fast forward to COVID, in the spring of 2020, various senior U.S. officials, such as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci and Vice President Michael Pence, discouraged mask wearing by the general public (example). It was alleged later that their pronouncements were motivated not by any medical considerations, but by their fear of a possible shortage of masks for medical staff. Also, some U.S. localities mandated (rather than just encouraged) mask-wearing, which upset some Americans. A few localities further excluded some minorities from their mask mandate, which upset some Americans even more (example). So, while I was wearing a cloth mask in NYC streets in the spring of 2020, I did attract a few comments along the lines of "Hey, take off that mask!" Such obnoxious behavior was quite common in the U.S., and received much media coverage worldwide. However it died off by the summer of 2020.

You should be more worried about being attacked in NYC for "looking Asian" (example, example, example, example, example, example, example, example, example, example), irrespective of whether you wear any mask, than about some imaginary "conservatives" frowning on your mask.

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Depends on where you are. There are some parts of the world where pandemic protection has become a political battlefield, and wearing the mask identifies the wearer with one political faction. Other parts of the world are more relaxed. In , masks are uncommon on the streets but not completely unheard. Someone wearing a mask might encounter occasional comments on the line of "don't you know the pandemic is over?"

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    – JoErNanO
    Aug 30, 2023 at 18:40
16

When mask usage became uncommon in the UK last summer (2022) I still wore one in public transport and some other crowded places. This was more out of respect than fear of disease. In the London tube there might have been one or two people in the same carriage wearing one. I never received any comment at all nor any funny looks. You still see people wearing them although I have eventually given up now (summer 2023). The people who wear them are of different ethnic groups and ages although perhaps people from East Asia are slightly more likely to be wearing one.

I think you should be fine but I cannot speak for other countries.

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10

My wife and me are usually the only ones around wearing masks in the S-Bahn (in Berlin, Germany). Sometimes people stare at me, but that also might be because of my not-quite-common hair style, and I'm accustomed to ignoring that.

My wife recently told that some other passenger was ranting for the whole trip about masks only helping against construction dust, not against viruses. She just pretended to not hear him (having headphones with some audio book), but some other passengers defended her ("everyone is free to wear masks").

Unfortunately the masks don't help against tobacco smoke, otherwise I would wear them even more often.

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8

I know you asked about the US and Europe but if you find yourself in some people (5% or so?) still wear masks. No one is going to comment or give you weird looks about it.

6

I'd like to wear a mask in public, but dreading the double take or snide remarks people would give me. I'm curious, what do you really think about people wearing a mask in public? Is it really that weird?

No, it's not weird. If it makes you feel safe, you should definitely wear one: It will only make you safer. It's true that fewer people wear them now, but that's certainly not a reason to refrain from this.

Most people will assume that you simply want to stay cautious and not take risks. The people who judge you will probably think that a) you're infectious and avoid you, or b) think that you're a snob and avoid you. There's really not much you can do to dissuade people from such reactions; if they choose to engage, you can simply explain that you feel safer with a mask on and are accustomed to wearing one.

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6

Bulgaria/Europe here.

About 1 in 1000 wears a mask in public right now. Everyone is OK with that.

I tried myself yesterday - I got covid some days ago and I recovered but I am not sure if I am absolutely safe for the others. I had to go out so I put a mask on. No one cared, at all.

In regard to looks and remarks: Here (and maybe in the whole Europe as well) looks and remarks don't work much so people are not likely to give you much of them. Even if they do, they are used to someone ignoring them, especially in regard to something of little importance.

Wear your mask and everything will be OK.

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5

Where I am (in Canada), mask use is quite uncommon. I might see one masked person in the course of a week.

But most people don't care about it or single out anyone wearing a mask. Many places of business and public transport still have signs encouraging mask use, though it is uncommon. It's mostly a personal choice, like whether you choose to wear a hat.

5

IMO you have nothing to worry about. Just do what you would like to do.

  1. The western world is much more individualistic in comparison to East Asia. Some people go shopping in their pyjamas and bedroom slippers. Some people wear sweatpants at work. It's 2023, no one cares.
  2. Not sure about the Americans, but the Europeans are used to seeing Asian tourists wearing face masks all the time; it has been like that already long before the Covid pandemic. If you look obviously Asian, everyone will understand.

That being said, it's also nice if you try to follow the old "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" saying. If you're outside, not in a super-crowded space, the weather is nice and you're feeling healthy, maybe you really don't need to wear a mask, even if you would at home. Similarly, I would wear a face mask in Japan much of the time, even though I don't wear it at all in my European home country. No pressure, of course. Ultimately, it's your private choice.

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3

The answer will not only vary from country to country, but from region to region. In large urban areas or inner city areas with a diverse population people will be used to "strange people doing strange things", and will shrug off most things done by someone who "does not look like them", and being normal for the person doing it unless, of course, it is particularly unusual or offensive.

For example, on the transport network in London, Paris or Berlin, a person wearing a mask often won't be given a second look by other passengers, as they could well be seated next to someone with a full face veil, a turban, or with ornate tattoos, who attracts much more attention, or at least reduces the impact of the sight of a person wearing a mask. There may be many people wearing masks as well.

In smaller urban areas or rural areas, where there is less diversity and fewer multi cultural influences, it might be seen as unusual and likely would attract a second look, because people are more accustomed to people following local conventions or customs, and wearing a mask would stand out more.

My personal experience is that Europeans are less likely to comment on other people's attire or style than Americans. Purely as it's seen as being rude in many of the root cultures to draw attention to yourself by drawing attention to other people.

2

Europe is not a country, so there will be strong local variations.

Since you ask:

what do you really think about people wearing a mask in public?

The median thinking from minimally educated people will be the following:

  • If you wear a mask for the purpose of not infecting the other, I find it good and encomendable, as long as you are not doing that because you "really have to" visit that museum/go to work/etcetc." If you are sick, stay home and get well soon.
  • If you wear a mask for the purpose of not getting infected, then it is your own business.

There are two caveats: the general thinking is that surgical masks are not good enough to protect you from infectious disease (I do not discuss the science behind this, it is simply the consequence of many countries forcing the usage of FFP3/N95 rated masks).

If you go around with a surgical mask or a mask resembling it, you will be either taken as:

  • a sick person trying to prevent the other from being infected, i.e. if you are in a crowded touristic place you will be received with the thinking "why this sick person does not stay at home??"
  • an illiterate person that tries to prevent getting diseases with ineffective methods (again, I do not discuss if this reasoning has a scientific basis, but people feel entitled to single out the ideas not following the mainstream opinion).
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  • 1
    I found the FFP3 far more comfortable than the other masks and as I recall (when they became easily available) most peaple did use them, so I disagree with your last 2 points. Aug 30, 2023 at 16:47
2

The answer here is "it depends on regional mandates" but also a much larger portion of the "it's up to you" decision.


Case in point:

In my area, the COVID risk is not as high as in other locations, due to good COVID-countermeasures being adapted by the population in the region.

Regional mandates state that are that masks are required in all medical offices and facilities. This is still the case due to the COVID infections rate.

However, masks are not required elsewhere. As such, it's now a personal decision as to whether or not to wear masks. I personally do not wear a mask at my FT job office, or when I am outside in general, or in restaurants or such when I am just there for a short time or they're empty. I do however wear my mask on any form of public transit or Uber drivers or situations where extremely concentrated exposure can happen.


In my case though, there are additional reasons for me to wear a mask that go beyond COVID mandates. I have asthma and my breathing is affected severely by allergens in the air or high-concentrations of particulate matter in the air. As such, I always keep a mask (basic cloth one or a KN95) in my pocket or readily available (standard NIOSH certified N95 mask when expecting to need it) when I am going to be going out of the house.

High allergen counts in the air will trigger my allergies which can trigger my asthma. Additionally, high particulate counts such as those produced by the Canadian wildfiles which drift south into my areas of the US also trigger my asthma, so I keep a mask on the days where that contamination is bad and I have to be exposed to it. (However I usually take it off indoors)


In my region, nobody cares if you do or don't wear a mask. Most people don't because of the reduced COVID risk in the area, but others still do. The only people who really 'care' are the exceptions to the rule and are individuals who are so anti-masking or anti-COVID-protocols that they try and cause a fight or stir up trouble for no reason. (an example is the only time I have had such an argument was when I was on public transit when someone caused problems and I immediately shot them down (metaphorically speaking!) into "shut up" states when I indicated "I'm not wearing this for COVID, I have asthma and it's highly sensitive to air quality, so sit down and be quiet." Which actually got them off my back rapidly. Bus driver's threat to get the police to drag them off the bus also probably helped, but still).

The probability someone will think you are "weird for wearing a mask" in most regions in the USA is not relevant, especially in a post-COVID era. The only people who raise concerns about it are those who want to argue for no reason (and usually cause public disturbances about it anyways and end up with a police visit). This is pretty much the same everywhere as far as I can tell, so it's really up to you whether to wear a mask or not, and not up to others to decide whether you wear a mask or not (except where regional legal mandates require it like for doctors offices in my region).

2

The only people who are going to give you snide remarks, anywhere, are nothing more than selfish bullies. Their actions are about them, and their personal problems, and have nothing to do with you, or your desire to be healthy.

My experiences while traveling in Europe and the USA, and the experiences of those I know doing the same, back up this claim.

I have several smaller female friends who choose to wear masks. They have all been yelled at by nasty and selfish "anti-maskers".

However, given my physique, stature, and overall appearance, I have never been yelled at a single time. Why? I would guess fear of potential consequences. Bullies don't like consequences.

Keep in mind, however, that the overwhelming majority of people, even the ones who may disagree with your personal health choice to wear a mask, will not be rude or make any attempt to intimidate you. When it comes down to it, most people aren't jerks.

As a case in point, a friend of mine got a ride on an Uber (ridesharing) earlier this week. Afterwards, she called me and told me about how stressful the ride was because the Uber driver wouldn't shut up about one conspiracy theory after another. My friend told me about all the driver's wacky conspiracy theories; there were all the standard ones propagated by certain TV/Internet "personalities" (and I use that word generously), plus a few extra theories I had never even heard before.

The Uber driver also said she was a vehement anti-vaxxer (because, as well all know, governments are inserting tiny invisible tracking microchips into us with each vaccine jab... LOL) and literally just came from their friend's home... and their friend couldn't get out of bed due to the severity of their COVID-19 symptoms. (I won't repeat the treatment advice the driver reportedly said is guaranteed 100% to work to cure COVID-19... and HIV... and cancer...)

I asked my friend if that driver gave her a hard time for wearing a mask during the ride. You know what my friend said? "No." That's right, even a wacky conspiracy-laden anti-vaxxer Uber driver didn't give her a hard time. Why? Because as much misguided and dangerous fiction as the driver might believe, and as annoying as she was, the driver wasn't a bully.

As a final note, the fact that you are of Asian heritage may actually work to your advantage. It's no secret that in many countries, especially some countries in Asia (and some cities in South America), wearing masks has been commonplace for many years. It's either necessary due to poor air quality or is considered a basic common courtesy to wear a mask in public spaces. As such, seeing people of Asian heritage wearing masks in Europe and the USA (and many other countries) has always been a somewhat common sight.

My recommendation is to make health decisions based on your personal health needs, and not on the possibility of a stupid snide remark or weird look from a poorly educated bully. Your health comes first.

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As @o.m. mentioned, in the US mask-wearing (and getting vaccinated) became highly politicized in the US during the pandemic. It was promoted (and in many places mandated) by the left wing, while the right wing viewed this as elitist government intrusion on their right to make personal decisions.

I think this has mostly subsided, but you personally are likely to find additional problems. Covid originated in China, and this resulted in a significant amount of anti-Asian bias, and an increase in violence against Asians, mostly also among the right wing, who already tend to be more xenophobic.

You certainly should wear a mask if you feel it's best, just be prepared for some negative reaction, especially in "red" states in the US south and midwest.

-4

Every answer here is missing a key point.

Everyone in the world now knows that

  • Australians often wear flip-flops

  • French women often go topless on beaches

  • Germany has no speed limits on some autobahns

  • Japanese people often wear masks

  • Middle-eastern families sometimes include 2 or 3 wives

  • Greeks drink Retsina

and so on.

Due to the popularity of Japanese culture, everyone in the US knows what a kohei is, what white day is, and that Japanese people sometimes wear masks.

It's a non-issue. Crunchyroll has ~25m subscriptions and hence about 70m frequent viewers. So right off the bat in the US 20% say of adults will be totally aware of (completely obvious) cultural commonalities, such as the example list above.

We are a quarter way through the 21st century. If this question was asked in 1990 the answer would be everyone will freak out because you eat raw fish and wear a mask when you have the sniffles! take care! But it's not the world we live in.

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    – JoErNanO
    Aug 31, 2023 at 11:28

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