Face Masks Are the New Handkerchiefs

By Jack Johnson, Destinations International

When it comes to books, I am pretty much still old school. I probably do most of my reading on a Kindle Paperwhite or on my iPad while I am traveling, but at home or at the office I still like the real thing. At the office I still have a shelf of reference books. Gone are the dictionary and thesaurus, the web is better for those.  But a variety of more specialized interest books remain on the shelf.  This includes an autographed copy of the 17th edition of Emily Post’s “Etiquette” by her great-grand-daughter-in-law, Peggy Post and Miss Manner’s Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium By Judith Martin – better known as Miss Manners. Trust me, these come in handy at the oddest of times.

I recently heard an interview with Judith Martin/Miss Manners on National Public Radio where she described the face mask as the new handkerchief.  This made a lot of sense to me.

I am old enough to remember a time when it was not just common but expected to carry a handkerchief when you went out into the world, particularly if it was a dress occasion.  As a child, handkerchiefs were perfect (and affordable) gifts to get your father.  And I was never surprised to receive them myself, usually from my grandmother, at Christmas or birthdays. They were handy things to have on hot days when you wanted to wipe your brow or somehow found yourself next to a weeping woman (which I think just happened in the movies of that day).  They were also essential if you needed to cough or sneeze.  It kept you from spewing your germs on those next to you. It also allowed you to blow your nose and wipe your face so that you were presentable.  That is what did them in.  Who wants a cloth fill of snot in your pocket?  Thank god for the arrival of those pocket packets of facial tissue!

But back to the interview with Miss Manners. She is right. The face mask is the new handkerchief in the sense that they are essential these days to reduce the spread of germs when you speak, cough or sneeze. They can be very good for the wearer in the sense that they protect your mouth and nose from particles from other people carrying the COVID-19 virus or from touching your mouth or nose with your own fingers. But they are not fool proof.  They may have side openings limiting their effectiveness. But more importantly, they do not cover your eyes which can be a point of infection just as easily as your nose and mouth. And that is the thing.

While wearing masks can be good for you, just like the handkerchief, they are about stopping you from spreading the virus via talking, singing, coughing or sneezing. They are about you caring about other people. They are about you not being selfish. It is not about free speech.  It is not about individual liberty. It is not even about comfort. It is about you doing something to help another person. It is about you making a positive difference. It is about you taking action. So please wear masks in public – at indoor and outdoor spaces with other people present – to free up a hospital bed or to save a life. Or just to show you have good manners.

And as for handkerchiefs – Miss Manner recommends bringing them back.  Sneezing or coughing into your sleeve or elbow is just not polite – or healthy.

About the Author

Jack Johnson headshot
Jack Johnson
Chief Advocacy Officer
Destinations International
Jack manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities. Currently, his work around positioning destination organizations as a shared value in each of their communities and speaking with a new lexicon based on the emotion-driven by those values has made him one of the leading voices of the travel industry.