Cornucopias of Germs

We had another damn pot luck celebration thingy at work last week. Man, I hate those things. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the pot-luck. Piles and piles of strange food, prepared by people you barely know, in god-knows what sort of kitchen conditions.

Restaurants I can deal with because there is the presumption of some sort of health code in place. But who knows what goes on in regular people’s kitchens? Not that my kitchen is sterile – far from it; but it contains my mess and my germs and my bacteria.

When I was a kid we had pot-lucks at church at least once a month, sometimes more. They could always come up with some excuse to drag us back to church when it wasn’t even Sunday. Nothing attracts people like mountains of food.

And that’s another thing about pot-lucks that grosses me out – the huge amounts of food. People heap their plates full two and three times and there’s still always enough left over to feed another round of pot-luckers.

Anyhow, one Saturday morning before a pot-luck, when I was still young enough to have only one sibling, my mum and I went over to some old church lady’s house because she and my mum were going to do some baking together. It was a hot day and the woman was in a sleeveless shift with and apron over it. She was beating some cake batter with a wooden spoon in an enormous ceramic bowl. For maximum grip and beating power, she had the bowl tucked firmly under one arm.

Very sensible. Except that I could see the thick bush of her armpit hair just brushing the rim of the mixing bowl and the wattles of her arms rhythmically slapping the side of the bowl. I was mesmerized watching her beating and flapping and chatting with my mum and laughing. I watched that incredible bush of armpit hair begin to glisten with sweat as the woman worked hard mixing her old country cake batter until, inevitably, a tiny droplet of sweat broke free from her underarm thicket and carefully wended its way down the inside of the bowl and into the cake batter.

I was so shocked I jumped up and ran out of the house and stayed out until my dad came to pick us all up to go to the pot-luck.

I only ever ate my mum’s food at these pot-luck things anyway and usually tried to persuade my parents to do the same, but they never listened. This time I begged them not to eat any of the sweat cake, except for some reason, I didn’t tell them why. Maybe it was too hard to explain for a little kid or maybe I wasn’t able to get enough of their ear-time at such a social event to explain properly. Who knows?

Luckily they were too full when it was time for dessert to have any of the cake; but I walked around and watched other people eat it. I was happy when I saw people that had been mean to me eating it. When I saw nice people eating, I knew I could never think of those people the same way again.

So, though I never liked to eat strangers’ food, this episode may have been the beginning of a conscious revulsion for pot-lucks. And buffets – the food might have been prepared under clean conditions, but then it sits out there for every Dick, Tom and Hairy to poke around in and breathe on.

I know some people think this is a bit OCD/germaphobic, but it’s really not. Germaphobes have irrational fears – I just take sensible precautions. And if I was hungry and a buffet or a pot-luck were the only food available, I could find a few things to choke down. (Definitely nothing in a cream sauce though).

And the food thing is really the only thing I have issues with. With all the media-hype about transmittal of illnesses, like everyone else, I’ve become hyperaware of what a hotbed of viruses and diseases human beings carry around with them, so I do wash my hands more frequently than I used to. I also don’t like using other people’s phones or keyboards or having them use mine. And I have to brush my teeth after I eat anything, but other than that I’m cool.

I love shopping in thrift stores, for instance, and I know a lot of people who freak out at the thought of wearing, trying on or even rooting through clothes other people have worn.

XUP Jr. has always had a thing about bathing in other people’s tubs. Even when she was little she refused to have a bath anywhere other than home – she wouldn’t even bathe at grandma’s house and her tub is always sparkling clean.

I know other people, like my sister-in-law who won’t even use a toilet other than her own. She’ll be at work all day and hold it all in until she gets home. When she’s away somewhere for more than a day she can force herself to pee in another toilet, but nothing else, she says. She’s always in serious gastro-intestinal distress after a vacation. And yet her bathroom at home is usually far, far (far) from clean.

It’s funny the quirks people have related to germs and cleanliness, isn’t it? I think everyone must have at least one. What’s yours? Or, what are the strangest germ-related phobias you’ve encountered? (Fear of wheat germ doesn’t count)

Everyday Etiquette Conundrums

  1. You find a folded $20 bill in the hallway at work. About 30 people have offices on your floor, plus about another 30 pass through that hallway regularly. Is it okay to just pocket the money or should you make some sort of attempt to find the owner?
  2. You’ve been keeping company with someone long enough to decide it is time to take the relationship to the horizontal level. Isn’t it rude of your guest to assume he/she will spend the night? Would it be rude of you to tell them to go home? (In a nice way, of course)
    • By the same token, if you are the guest and want to go home, but just before you are about to leap into your clothes, your host exclaims that he/she is going to make you one of his/her famous frittatas for breakfast. Would it be rude of you to say, “Yummy, what time would you like me to come back?”
  3. You work in a government office, so most “festive” occasions and all-day team work sessions seem to require a pot-luck lunch so as not to waste the taxpayer dollar on catered meals. Is it impolite to eat only from the dish you brought since you are quite squeamish about eating food prepared in kitchens you’ve never inspected by people you barely know who could be:
    • Not washing their hands before touching your food 
    • Licking their fingers while preparing the food
    • Tasting from the stirring spoon and putting it back in the food without washing it first
    • Cooking in a crusty kitchen with crusty pots and crusty utensils
    • Using products that have been in the fridge for months
    • Letting the kids and the dog help
    • Etc.
  4. You follow a doddery old woman out of a public washroom. She’s wearing white trousers, so you don’t notice until you’re back in the mall throng that she has about a foot of toilet paper hanging out of the back of her pants. Ordinarily you’d say, “excuse me,” explain the situation while plucking whatever is dangling from her, off. But this is toilet paper. So, of course, you don’t want to touch it and you don’t want to get into a big thing in front of everyone while she tries to grapple with trying to find and remove the stuff herself. While all this is going through your head, you’re long gone, but find yourself second-guessing the situation for days.
  5. You’ve been waiting 45 minutes  in line for a train that does not have reserved seating. The person in front of you leaves her suitcase and asks you to keep an eye on it while she goes to find her friends. You agree. Time passes and the train starts to board. You’ve had to shuffle her suitcase ahead twice. Then she returns with 7 other adults and 3 kids. They all intend to get in line ahead of you. Do you have to let them or can you tell them to bugger off?