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I’m a hygienic person, or, as the rest of the world refers to me: a germaphobe.
I don’t like the term “germaphobe”; it makes me sound like a bad person. I get lumped in with negative “phobes” like homophobes and xenophobes. Really, I have to be associated with those jerks because I do a good job of washing my hands? If that isn’t bad enough, others call me clean freak. Freak is a bit strong, don’t you think? I mean, it’s not like I’m some sort of P.T. Barnum human curiosity: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, behold, the Clean Freak! Look closely and marvel at how he washes his hands… with soap! Try to stifle your gasps of disgust as you watch his strange ritual of rinsing, lathering, scrubbing and rinsing.” That would be a disappointing show.
On more than one occasion I’ve had strangers, upon seeing me wash my hands, sarcastically ask if I’m prepping for surgery. Instead of being offended, I take this as a compliment. If anyone knows the value and importance of properly washing one’s hands, it’s a surgeon.
I simply believe in ensuring that my hands – what I use to place food in my mouth – are clean before I eat. I have the same standard of cleanliness for myself that I do for anyone working in the food industry. Next time you’re in a public washroom, see how well the people around you wash their hands and ask yourself if you’d want them preparing your food.
I once had to make a mental note to ensure future handshakes with my boss were avoided (or at least followed by extra thorough scrubbing) after an encounter in the washroom. He emerged from the stall and ran the water for half a second while he poked his fingers under the tap almost as if he was trying not to get them wet – the same way you quickly passed your hand through the flame of a candle as a kid – and dried them by flicking his fingers. He did not use any soap. If this little display was for me, what did he bother to do when there wasn’t a witness?
Over the years I’ve made many modifications in order to navigate situations where there are an excess of germs, such as restaurant buffets. Where most people see a tantalizing display of foods, I see a smorgasbord of germs. Why? Everyone uses the same serving utensils and my hands end up being only as clean as the dirtiest hands at the buffet. There’s the little kid who just picked his nose. The man who didn’t wash his hands in the washroom. The woman who just coughed into her hand. They are all touching the same serving spoons. So I sacrifice one hand – the bodyguard taking the bullet – to grab the contaminated handles while the other holds my plate.
Flying presents a whole other set of problems – trying to do a satisfactory sanitization in an airplane washroom is an exercise in futility. The small, shallow sink; the cruel spring-loaded tap that spills out a teaspoon’s worth of water with each push before it has to be reset: The only way to get my hands wet is to keep one hand pushing down on the tap (carefully using paper towel as a barrier) while I wet the other, then repeat. I’ve learned that it’s much easier to avoid this process by carrying a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer.
As someone who avoids germs, and is criticized for it, one of my pet peeves is the “five-second rule.” It demonstrates how lax and sloppy most people are when it comes to food and hygiene. I’m not sure who invented this rule, but it has become a go-to response. The rule boils down to this: If food falls on the floor and you pick it up within five seconds, it is safe to consume. Is this how the transmission of germs works? Is there a germ commander, with troops at the ready, staring at a stopwatch once the food hits the ground, counting down the seconds until they can charge? Does the food have a force field that only lasts five seconds? “Shield’s at 10 per cent – we can’t hold the germs off much longer!” I’ve even heard some people extend the grace period to become the “10-second rule.” Using the rule’s flawed logic, it would be perfectly safe to munch on a doughnut after it has fallen on a dog dropping as long as it was under the time limit. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not comfortable with having my food touch something dirty for any amount of time.
Friends enjoy taking cheap jabs at my expense whenever food is served: “Oh, Jason has to go wash his hands before he can eat,” they’ll tease. I am thorough, but I do not look like Lady Macbeth trying to scrub away some invisible “damned spot.”
I believe that in the future people who ridicule me for being clean will be looked upon much in the same way as those who once refuted the use of seat belts or who didn’t think smoking cigarettes was bad for one’s health. In the meantime, anyone who wants to point and laugh can go right ahead. I’ll be under the big top with the rest of the freaks, washing my hands.
Jason Garramone lives in Waterloo, Ont.