We don’t have a culture of wearing masks in Europe.
We largely escaped the epidemics that scarred Asia and made them a common sight in public there.
And then came COVID-19.
At first, we didn’t have enough masks. We were advised not to use them unless we were sick or looking after someone who was.
Now they’re mandatory across much of Europe.
In France, the country that banned face coverings 10 years ago, masks must be worn on all public transport.
Watch this week’s episode: Are face masks tearing us apart?
Spain has widened this to include all public spaces.
The shifting regulations and increased powers handed to the police to uphold them, have fuelled tension and even led to violent clashes.
Just one example came from a market in the south-eastern French town of Aubenas. Police were reprimanding a man for not wearing a mask when a woman intervened.
A shouting match ensued, which led to the woman being forcefully arrested. Onlookers chanted “ridiculous”.
For others, anger is directed not at the enforcers but those flouting the rules.
A violent scuffle broke out on a bus in Bordeaux, between a man not wearing a mask and a woman covering her face.
Throughout the lockdowns, we heard claims of police brutality, with racial and ethnic minorities reporting that they were being singled out.
“If before people were stopped and searched because ‘we’re looking for terrorists’, or ‘to control our borders’… what happens with COVID is the justification for stop and search in public spaces just changed,” Juliana Wahlgren from the European Network Against Racism told us.
So how can we try to defuse these tensions while making sure people follow the rules?
New York City is now bringing in “social distancing ambassadors” and we’re seeing similar schemes here in Europe too.
These are groups of people, not linked to the police, working in the community to keep the peace and make sure people are staying safe.
With masks certain to remain a key part of the fightback against COVID-19, the tensions they heighten cannot be overlooked.