Where Did All the Smiles Go?
Reading expressions is so hard when the other person is wearing a mask.
Sometimes I wonder what my coworkers’ smiles look like.
Context: for the past month, I’ve been working at a place with a mixture of familiar people and a few new faces. Given our workplace (a college), our state has mandated that we have to wear face masks whenever we’re in the building.
Great! I have no problem with masks! I think it’s great that we’re able to try and protect each other this way.
But on the other hand — there is the mystery of my coworkers’ full faces. Some wear plain disposable masks, likely procured from Amazon or a local pharmacy. Others wear fabric masks that change with their clothing choices of the day. Sometimes I wonder if it would be rude to ask them why they choose the masks they do. (I have fabric masks from Etsy that I love to wear — the patterns give a little glimpse of my personality — but I have to go with disposable masks for my long shifts. The latter just make it much easier to breathe.)
We converse like normal. Sometimes I think they’re smiling from the way their eyes crinkle a bit. Other times, all I can judge of their expressions is through the ways their eyes move while they speak. It’s all very tricky at times, especially since I’m pretty unobservant without even going into how I have trouble gauging people’s social cues as it is.
I could be a creepy person and say to one of them, “Hey, can I see your face without your mask for a sec?” But we don’t do that in polite society. “Weirded out” wouldn’t be the half of it, would it? Talk about workplace isolation in just one hot minute.
But I’m curious. I feel like Christine in The Phantom of the Opera when she just had to see what lay beneath the Phantom’s mask. But I wouldn’t get outrage and betrayal as a reaction: I’d just get a strange look that asked, “What planet did you come from?”
I guess the worst part is that I feel a bit blind to my coworkers’ reactions. Half of the conversation is missing — all because we live in a world that still requires the protection given by masks. I miss seeing the way someone’s face would light up when there was a good joke shared. I miss being able to judge…