I tend to be fairly persnickety about hygiene, not OCD but definitely on the clean side of the fence. So when I found myself stuck, trying to think about the unhygienic behaviors that make me shiver I was surprised by my general tolerance level. Until I reached out to the brilliance of the facebook world to ask what they thought was funky – and then oh boy, did it all come back and I realized I’m actually not all that tolerant after all.
Now I can put up with a pretty significant amount of funk. I have two children, three dogs, two cats and one husband (not sure that I would want more than one but thought it was important to be accurate in the overall assessment of possible daily funkiness). I have also had in my home at one time or another, rats (as pets), hamsters, and sundry fish. I have intentionally gone camping to places with no running water, despite the fact that my preference is camping near running water by which I refer to plumbing not a river (though I do like to camp by rivers). I have spent hours in the middle of the night on my hands and knees picking bits of expelled rice out of carpet (note here that while rice is great for a generally upset tummy, not so good for stomach flu), and I have been locked in the bathroom with a skunked dog working the de-skunk formula (baking soda, peroxide, shampoo just in case you need it – also do not let skunked dog on the furniture unless you are in the mood to buy new furniture).
All of this to say that my funk tolerance level is pretty high for the daily household funk you encounter as a parent and pet owner. However, there are world funks that no amount of child vomit, or gross dog can help you build a tolerance for. Top of the list, both mine and from those I heard from: non-washers in the bathroom (ugh just typing it makes me shiver, that’s how gross it is). I have not often found myself in the men’s room so have little anecdotal experience with this in that setting, however I have spent quite a bit of time in the ladies room. Now, before I jump in to the appalling nature of failure to wash one’s hands in the bathroom let me just say that I do tend toward the OCD side of things in a public restroom. I am one of those people that has mastered getting out of the bathroom without ever touching anything, even in the challenging room where they have a manual faucet and paper towels out of arms reach from the sink (hand dryers are another problem but I have fairly long legs so can usually kick a foot up there to turn it on without straining anything). And I have passed this compulsion onto my children who both exit public bathrooms with hands held high looking like they are ready to head into surgery – way to go!
But let’s actually examine this dirty little habit that so many have, and let me start by asking this question: do you want to eat food prepared by someone who just wiped there ass? I know that I don’t and yet I feel that this is a question that more people should ask themselves as they exit a stall, just as a little reminder about the choices they are making. Let me also add here that I do not believe that genitalia are in and of themselves dirty (either in the unclean or the naughty sense). They are body parts that serve a function like most other body parts do, a key difference being that they are responsible, or live in close proximity to a part that is responsible, for removing waste products from our bodies. Just like we do not put our food scraps and garbage back on our plates, we do not want that which has left the body to go back into the body (unless it is a bone or organ but in that case you have a bigger issue to deal with). So when we are dealing with these areas of our body it seems like it just makes a whole lot of sense to then WASH OUR HANDS prior to re-entering the world of touching other stuff.
I have often been at the sink in the ladies room, diligently or perhaps compulsively, washing my own hands when I see someone exit a stall, fluff their hair in the mirror and walk right on out the door – gack! Now there is the argument that maybe they were just in the stall to discretely adjust an undergarment or perform some other non-bodily touching function, BUT, and this is significant, they had to open and close the stall door which has inevitably been touched by hands that were involved in the bodily touching we have discussed, so the issue is now that you may not have your personal funk on your hands, you have someone else’s funk – even funkier.
My husband who, not surprisingly is rather like me in his approach to public restrooms, except he will try even harder to avoid using them than I will, reports on the behavior of fellow restroom users with a hushed voice and subtle gestures, “the guy in the blue polo with blond hair, do not let him touch you.” Which means of course that he is not a hand washer, not that there are only very specific people my husband has decided should not touch me.
Frankly, given how many of us there are that find this habit revolting I wonder how there can still be so many who fail to wash. I also wonder why they don’t wash, like with so many things I just don’t get that. They always seem to have time for the hair or the lipstick, why not the substantive hygiene?
Now that we are deep into cold and flu season I think it is worth spending some time on other funk candidates including the non-covered sneeze or cough. I know that both symptoms can sometimes take you by surprise which makes the use of the elbow or side of the body so convenient for use as a catch for whatever is in that is wanting to come out. This method may not be a favorite but it is much better than the nothing that so many people do. I suppose it is fair to disclose that I am probably a little more toward the OCD side of this spectrum as well which is why I was so proud of myself at a recent family gathering for not strangling the person across the table who kept complaining that they were getting a cold in between open mouthed, uncovered hacking in my direction – my strategy was to take a very hot shower and try not to breathe, it seems to have been effective. Carrying a hanky is a great, and civilized if only slightly old fashioned way of dealing with the issue. I do not like the direct sneeze into the hand at all – how is that effective at not spreading germs, they are all on your hand now! Unless of course you carry hand wipes in your bag like I do, in which case you can at least attempt to stop the spread. And please don’t start thinking to yourself, ‘just use sanitizer,” I’m sure it can be very good for some things but mostly it is great at making stronger bacteria, and comes with a host of other non-hygiene related baggage that we don’t need to go into.
Ancillary to the cough/sneeze category is a personal pet peeve: the young child with the goopy nose. By young I mean too young to know to wipe themselves. So the question here is to the parents: you would not walk around with a crust of green snot around your nose and upper lip, why do you feel like it is okay to let your child walk around the world like this? Not only is it gross, but you know from when you have a cold it also does not feel good. Warm wash cloth and a gentle wipe – not that hard. And, if you happen to be away from access to a warm wash cloth carrying a hanky is, again, ever so useful.
Finally, let’s discuss briefly, odor. This is a sort of touchy one because, as the jokes run, this may be semi-cultural and it is not my intention to offend anyone. Also, I’m not sure this one bothers me so much, depending of course on the type and level of odor that we are talking about. For purposes of not grossing myself out we will limit this analysis to general body odor caused by sweat. I may have mentioned that I have a 10 year old and a 13 year old and we have almost completely made the transition from baby smell to adult smell. I would like to acknowledge that there is a continuum one moves along but there is a distinct moment when you notice an olfactory difference in your people, when the smell moves from ‘this person belongs to me entirely’ to ‘this person has become their own being’ – naturally when I noticed the change I cried. But, the odor: the odor comes before the more fundamental change in underlying body scent, and it is a touchy moment with children. I don’t want them to feel bad about themselves, or self-conscious but it isn’t always that pleasant to live with either. So you gently suggest deodorant (in my house we do not suggest antiperspirant because it has aluminum in it and that is bad) but we do what we can to minimize the degree of offensive odor. And, if you are my children you either choose to use the deodorant or you don’t, and that is okay so long as you wash regularly, because bodies smell like bodies and that is okay.
And that is okay out in the world of other people also, though it is also okay to be considerate of your fellow globe travelers and try to keep yourself hygienically acceptable to at least a functional degree. I know that there are some more sensitive to smell than others so it may be a hard standard to create, but I believe regular bathing and/or occasional use of anti-odor products is a bar most of us can reach (at least those living where this is a reasonable expectation. If you don’t have indoor plumbing you are exempted as presumably you have some bigger issues to concern yourself with).
As I write this I go back to feeling proud of myself as reasonably tolerant in the world of basic hygiene. I am concerned about bacteria, yes, but not all bacteria are bad and I don’t believe we should kill them all (or even attempt to because they are smarter than we are and that could get ugly), I do believe we should wash our hands after using the potty or using a facility where other people are using the potty – because the alternative is gross! So let us end with this reminder, though I don’t expect there will be any non-washers reading this: wash your hands after leaving any room where you would not eat (and for those who take food into the bathroom with them – please don’t come to my house or shake my hand).