Long before Covid-19, face masks were a part of daily life for everyday people in cities worldwide.
They were worn in the streets as a guard against air pollution, and on crowded public transport to protect against airborne illnesses.
New Zealanders could see those smoggy scenes and enjoy our particular brand of patriotic smugness. That would never be life here.
We have pockets of high-density living but open space is never far away and there is plenty of it.
How times have changed.
In Covid-19 alert level 2, we are encouraged to wear a mask almost everywhere outside our homes and in many public spaces. Certainly, anywhere we are near other people outside our bubbles.
Mask advice has evolved over the course of the pandemic. In the first lockdown, we were all much more worried about the virus lingering on surfaces, but 2021 has been all about masks thanks to extra-transmissible Delta.
In some countries where Delta outbreaks struck early, there was some flip-flopping over when and where one was needed.
Being late to the Delta party New Zealand has been able to roll out new rules with more consistency, in line with the increased transmission risks.
Still, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker called the move to mandatory masks for businesses open to the public at level 4 a historic moment for New Zealand and a huge shift in policy.
Even at alert level 1, we must legally wear a face covering on public transport and flights, and they are encouraged in crowded indoor places.
Some people don't like masks, and I have a certain level of sympathy for them because a lot of us aren't used to this, and they can be uncomfortable.
That sympathy extends to tolerance of a bit of grumbling. It doesn't extend to anyone giving an essential or other worker a hard time when they try to enforce the rules.
Some facts must be faced here. Masks are part of life in New Zealand now.
It's reasonable to predict they probably will be, in ebbs and flows, for some time. They are part of a package of defences against an ever-mutating virus, a respiratory pathogen.
I don't like wearing my mask. If I had to wear one because of air pollution in New Zealand, I'd be outraged, marching on Parliament. But the pandemic is different.
I accept the ample evidence that a mask can help protect me from catching Covid, and from spreading those dastardly Delta droplets to other people. I accept it's just part of the kit now, may as well find a comfy one.
Thinking about my mask as a regular item of clothing and not a disposable, fear-driven pandemic accessory is helping me get used to its place in my life and in New Zealand life.
Maybe one day masks will be like an umbrella in the boot - handy just in case, only used when needed.
Maybe they will be like a watch – a useful accessory some might choose to wear daily.
At times of heightened risk, our masks may be as necessary to protect our lungs as our shoes are to protect our feet.
Kiwis are notorious for shunning shoes, but only a toddler would get angry when asked to wear a pair.
Time to grow up, mask up.