No more masks! What a relief to hear that this Covid protocol has been lifted. Not only because it indicates that we might be over the worst of the pandemic, but also because we can actually see people smile again!
Masks were good for many reasons. Obviously to stop the spread of infection, but I think, especially in a country like SA, it was also a physical indication of law-abiding citizens following the rules, respecting others and taking health seriously. I can also understand that masks might have become somewhat of a safety net and perhaps it is not a bad idea to keep wearing them in public spaces when you are worried about your health or when you know you might infect others.
But being able to see someone’s face, to easily read an expression… What a joy! They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. And often, during these mask-wearing times, I thought about how misleading that can be. I found it quite hard to judge mood or attitude on someone’s eyes alone and also, to share my own feelings. You have to do a proper eye-wrinkling smile to show that you are friendly behind a mask!
Because attitude and emotional intelligence are important in any industry, a smile – even in a zoom meeting or just in your voice over the phone – plays an important role. Does it not make you feel less of an inconvenience when the after-hours plumber or late-night nurse do their work with a smile? A genuine smile puts people at ease and it even says something about your intentions.
If you are in the hospitality and tourism sector, where entertainment and enjoyment and the wellbeing of your customer are at the heart of what you do, a smile is non-negotiable. Tourism and hospitality were hard hit by the pandemic. Because it is a face-to-face industry, because tourism establishments were so thankful for every tiny bit of support and, obviously, because the comfort of customers are of the utmost importance in this line of work, masks were an essential part of frontline uniforms. But we missed the smiles! Angela, our head of guest reception at La Motte, has a beaming smile. She backs the smile up with knowledge, empathy and EQ, but without that initial welcoming smile to put guests at ease, even Angela had to work harder at making everyone feel welcome.
All smiles are not equal, of course. I googled the most famous smiles in the world and found a less than bright one to be at number one. No surprise really, it is the Mona Lisa’s smile. Perhaps less friendly, it is sure to be engaging and mysterious! Two of the top four go to the inviting smiles of Julia Roberts and George Clooney while the fourth might be more smirk than smile – the man in Portrait of An Unknown Man by Antonello da Messina. In South Africa, Madiba’s smiling face is sure to be one of the most loved images while the smile on Jacob Zuma’s face might be met with less enthusiasm.
A real smile makes life easier. It lifts your mood and affects the mood of those around you. They say it makes you look younger (worth a shot!) and it speaks to your attitude and mindset even before you’ve proofed your worth.
For a long while we wore masks to prevent a contagious disease from spreading. Now, we are at a stage where we are comfortable enough to take them off. Perhaps it’s time for a new infection and I’m not referring to monkeypox. Did you know how contagious a smile can be?!