Americans might not like wearing face masks, but the British disdain it even more

British face masks
Photo via rhodesj/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The United States might have developed a worldwide reputation for its citizens’ aversions to face masks, but it’s not the only country struggling with face coverings. Facemasks in England are also rather unpopular.

On July 14, the British government announced masks would be mandatory in all shops, the Washington Post reported. Anyone found breaking the new law that goes into effect July 24 could be fined $125. 

Britons are not happy about the announcement. For example, an op-ed about the new mandate published in the Telegraph featured a headline that read, “Compulsory face masks are proof the British bulldog has become the scaredy-cat of Europe.” That followed another op-ed published in the same newspaper the day before with the headline: “Face masks don’t build confidence in this horrible ‘new normal’, they destroy it.” 

YouGov recently reported that Britons are far less likely to wear protective facial coverings than almost all other countries. 

In June, YouGov found that just 21% of Britons were wearing a mask in public. At that point, even 69% of Americans reported wearing a mask when they left their homes. 

Although most of those surveyed who wear masks said doing so made them feel better protected and 77% said they felt normal once wearing them, those who said they wouldn’t wear a mask said it was because they expected it to be an uncomfortable experience. 

“The most common physical complaints among mask wearers have been feeling too hot (39%), steamed-up glasses (39%), and difficulty communicating (38%),” the report said. 

While many anti-mask Americans argue that mask mandates infringe on their individual freedoms, it looks like Britons don’t like masks because they feel silly while wearing them. 

Jim Williams, a Briton in Newcastle, told the New York Times that “Brits would rather be sick than embarrassed.”

Social commentator Peter York echoed that same idea, as well. 

“There’s a class-based idea that anything too valetudinarian, too conspicuously hygienic, is middle-class,” he told the newspaper. “It’s one of the sort of bravado things of the English upper class, that being madly hygienic is silly.”

And it’s not just regular folks in Britain either. Conservative lawmaker Desmond Swayne called the new mask mandate a “monstrous imposition against myself and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents.” 

“Nothing,” he said, “would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up.”

British resistance to masks can also be attributed to confusing messaging from the government, Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, told CNN

“What is clear is that it isn’t the public’s fault for not wearing masks in the U.K. Rather, consistent policies and effective public messaging is vital, which have even differed across England, Scotland, and Wales,” Mills said.

Unfortunately for Britons, the reluctance to wear a mask appears to correspond with the country’s COVID-19 numbers. 

Trailing behind the U.S. and Brazil, Britain now has the third-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, as of July 17. The nation has almost 300,000 coronavirus cases and more than 45,000 deaths. 

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Sources: Washington Post, Telegraph, YouGov, NYT, CNN

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