As of May 1st, it’s no longer mandatory to wear masks in Italy’s shops, bars, and restaurants. But some visitors, as well as social media users outside of Italy, voiced their surprise this week upon finding that many people in Italy are still wearing masks in such places regardless.
After videos were widely shared on social media this week showing people wearing face masks in Italian shops and supermarkets despite the end of the mask mandate, people in and outside of the country commented with their theories as to why many Italians appear reluctant to remove their face coverings just yet.
Some suggested mask-wearing had now become the socially acceptable thing to do – and that perhaps this shouldn’t come as a shock in a country where, in general, health and hygiene are taken particularly seriously.
“Imagine being surprised to find out that in Italy sometimes people follow social norms more than legal norms,” wrote Twitter user Giulio Mattioli.
“I mean if Italians are going to take masks as seriously as they take their rules about food, we’re going to see them around in 100 years from now,” he added.
Many people also responded to the videos to suggest that the reason so many continue to wear masks in Italy is likely to be trauma or fear of the virus, as the country was hit so hard by the pandemic early on and suffered an especially high death toll.
Everyone still wearing them at my local supermarket. We’ve done it for so long, it’s almost like you don’t trust to take them off yet.
— Karli Drinkwater (@karlibubbles) May 10, 2022
However, as we saw in March 2020, many people in Italy were already choosing to wear masks and gloves in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, weeks before the government made face coverings mandatory in public places.
“We are a much more responsible and respectful country than it seems from social media and talk shows,” tweeted prominent Italian virologist Roberto Buriani in response to one video appearing to show customers wearing masks in a Turin supermarket on Tuesday.
“The law doesn’t require you to give way to an elderly person on a bus, but many do so anyway. And many wear a mask even if it is not mandatory,” he said. “Good.”
Whether the relatively widespread voluntary use of masks in Italy is rooted in fear of the virus, social norms around health and hygiene, or perhaps a sense of collective social responsibility, the still-masked Italians The Local spoke to this week gave more straightforward explanations.
In the southern city of Bari on Wednesday, many shoppers wearing masks at the Coop supermarket said they were simply doing so out of habit.
“But doesn’t it feel strange to walk into a shop without putting on your mask? It’s like leaving the house without shoes on,” joked police officer Lorenzo, 41.
“I didn’t really think about it,” he said, noting that he still has to wear a mask at work every day.
Others said they were still being cautious.
“Every year the government removes all the rules in summer, no matter what,” said Tiziana, a former office administrator who says she lost her job due to the pandemic. “So what they say doesn’t interest me. Yes we are vaccinated, but I visit my elderly mother every day.”
Asked if she thought people in Italy were being especially careful after being hit hard by Covid, she said: “maybe in the north, where they suffered so much.”
Checkout operator Giulia, 27, said she was glad some customers were still wearing masks “but a lot of people didn’t want to wear them, at least not properly, all through the pandemic … It was very difficult.”
In Venice on Thursday, cafe customer Sabino, 72, shrugged: “Boh. Why not wear it? It doesn’t bother me.”
“I’ll take it off when the weather gets hot,” he added.