Surgical Mask Love: How I Learned to Love the Surgical Mask

It’s wintertime, so that means: colds!

I’ve had a cold for a few days now, so all this lying around in bed has given me a lot of time to think about colds. Eventually my mind wandered to one unavoidable part of getting a cold in Japan: surgical masks.

People in Japan wear surgical masks, called “masuku” in Japanese, in public for a variety of reasons, one of which is trying to prevent others from catching a cold. I do my citizenly (well, residently) duty and wear a mask when I get a cold, although, admittedly they can be a bit uncomfortable. But upon second bedridden thought, there are tons of good things about wearing a surgical mask:

Surgical Mask Love: 5 Reasons

1. Keep others from getting your cold

Keeping others from getting your cold is the most frequent argument put forth by Japanese coworkers and friends for wearing a surgical mask during a cold. But even more important than that:

2. Make it look like you are trying to keep others from getting a cold

You definitely look better in the eyes of others in Japan if you wear a surgical mask during a cold. I’m all for making myself look more responsible and culturally/socially aware, especially if the cost of said respect is less than 20 yen (about .22USD) a day.

3. Hide the lower part of your face

I’m fairly satisfied by how the lower half of my face looks (thanks, parents and years of dental work!), so this isn’t to say that I normally would want to cover it. But, when visited by the ravages of a cold, sometimes hiding seems like the better option. I’ll explain why:

  • With colds come drippy noses

I won’t go into details, although I have a really great anecdote. Hint: it involves lots of mucus and a room full of people.
Sometimes, it’s just hard to stem the flow. And sometimes, for one reason or another, tissues aren’t available. Masks hide nasal indiscretions until they can be dealt with properly.

  • No makeup, no worries

For those who feel societal pressure to wear makeup, masks can offer relief of that “responsibility.” No one is going to see the lower half of your face, so why bother? I won’t go so far as to say you can give up brushing your teeth too, but then again, aesthetically, no one will know the difference.

  • Mouth-breathe freely

One of the things I struggle most with during a cold is breathing. I love breathing. I’ve done it all my life, and I find it difficult to give up, which is why I dislike getting colds so much. Tragically, the symptom most often visited upon me during a cold is a stuffy nose, which severely interferes with aforementioned beloved past-time. Sometimes the only other option is to breath through my mouth. Even more unjustly, mouth-breathing is seen as uncouth in polite society. But, fear not, fair plague-carriers; there is a solution. That solution is to wear a surgical mask. With the lower half of your face safely concealed, you can mouth-breathe to your heart’s content, and no one will ever know.

  • Make as many unpleasant expressions as you want

They say expression is all in the eyes. I don’t believe this. Without the mouth to add some important clues, I think it is difficult to tell accurately what expression someone is making. Use this to your advantage. Do you normally hide your disgust when someone says something that annoys you? Keep your eyes neutral and feel free to sneer. Do you often hide behind a forced smile when asked to do something you don’t want to do? Go ahead and grimace. It’s therapeutic!

  • Mumble with abandon

One of my favorite things to do when I get a cold is to curse under my breath about how awful it is having a cold. Usually, said mumbling (“Dammit, can’t breath, $%*#!!!”) is not loud enough for others to hear, but my mouth moves just enough for people to give me that, “What’s wrong with her?” look. Now that I’m in Japan, I can cover my crazy with a surgical mask! As an added bonus, it also dampens the more audible of mumblings.

4. Banish sore throats

Another thing that is super uncomfortable about having a cold is getting a sore throat. I’ve found that a sore throat is often brought on by mouth-breathing, which dries out the throat. I hate that I have to decide between breathing and saving the integrity of my windpipe. However, if you wear a surgical mask, you no longer have to choose! The surgical mask traps moisture and helps stave off sore throats, especially if worn during the night.

5. Receive free, unsolicited sympathy

A surgical mask is an instant signifier that something is wrong. Some people may wear masks to try to prevent sickness, but more often than not, someone wearing a surgical mask has a cold or seasonal allergies. This means that everyone is going to ask you if you have a cold and how you are feeling. If there is anything that I love more than breathing, it is sympathy. Before, in order to get sympathy, I would have to exaggerate my “stuffy nose cold” voice, sent lots of e-mails and text messages with frowny emoticons, or come out and say, “I have a cold and feel miserable.” Complaining is hard work. But by wearing a surgical mask, friends and coworkers know that I have a cold and offer lots of “get wells,” all without me having to say a word.

 

While I will never like getting a cold, I have learned to like wearing a surgical mask during a cold. And even if this post has not convinced you of the wonders of the mask, if it has prompted you to write me a sympathy e-mail or comment, I will consider it a success.

Related articles:

Reasons to Dislike Surgical Masks

 

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