Masked Faces with Hidden Smiles: It’s Time to Get Awkward


mask with smileLet’s be honest, wearing a mask is no fun. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and some of us are experiencing “maskne” (mask-acne). It’s a thing…look it up. The good news is, no one can see your deteriorating complexion, because it’s covered…by a mask. Another adjustment to mask-wearing is that you can’t greet someone with a smile as you walk past. Being the true Minnesotan that I am, this is a big change. I was taught that a smile can go a long way. Smiling at a stranger is sort of like saying “Hi,” but without words. Sometimes that simple act is the one thing that can make a person’s day better. Smiling shows kindness, and that’s something we can all agree that the world could use a little bit more of.

When I look at someone with my face half-covered I feel like I’m blankly staring into their soul while also trying to remember to “smile with my eyes.” So lately, I’ve been trying out different ways to acknowledge a passerby. 

The Head Nod. 

According to Wikipedia, a nod of the head is used to “indicate agreement, acceptance, or acknowledgment.” The trifecta of greetings!  I’ve tried to give someone a head nod on several occasions. It’s a little awkward for me and it’s more formal than I’m used to. If an informal head nod is what you’re looking for, tilt your head upwards to indicate you acknowledge a person’s presence, this is also known as saying “What up.”

The Wave.

  • Short and Fast – Use when you’re really excited to see someone. Raised eyebrows can be added for effect.
  • Wide – Use if you are trying to get someone’s attention, or to wave at someone who is far away. Both hands are often used for this option.
  • Finger Wiggle – Do this by holding up your palm, and moving your fingers in a wiggling motion. This wave is often done to convey flirtatious feelings, or when waving at a small child.
  • Stop-Sign – Do this by lifting up your hand as if to say “stop.” Commonly done when a person lets you cut ahead of them in traffic. For added flair, throw in a head nod.

Note: Use waves with caution! Some may make a person think that you know them personally, and then you run the risk of having to say something like, “Oh no, I was just saying hi…you know, because you can’t see me smile in this mask?…HaHa…” I prefer to avoid awkward situations like this if at all possible, although they seem to find me quite often. 

Smile With Your Eyes.

Unless you are already skilled at this, I suggest you practice in front of a mirror before you take to the streets. I feel like when I try to smile with my eyes I end up looking like I’m squinting in the sunlight, or that I’ve got something stuck in my eyeball. Since I’m not skilled at it, I don’t ever use this strategy. Life Tip: Know where your strengths are, and play to those.

The Verbal Acknowledgement.

Simply saying “hi” as you pass by someone is sufficient. Saying more can get a little weird. I often catch myself smiling at someone under my mask (AKA staring blankly into their soul) and then I say “I’m smiling.” The less you know the person, the more awkward this gets. However, if done correctly and in the right moment, both of you can get a good laugh, which might unintentionally make that person’s day, and yours, a little better. 


Although it’s not always convenient or comfortable, wearing a mask is important, and part of our daily lives now. Instead of staying silent and worrying about creeping someone out with my awkward blank-stare, I’ve been choosing one of the strategies I’ve listed above. If it fails, at least I get to laugh at myself and sometimes I get to laugh with a stranger. A few things to remember: give the people around you grace, choose your mask-etiquette wisely, and don’t be afraid to get a little awkward.


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