Living in the U.S., we’ve become accustomed to a certain standard of living and hygiene and assume, unwittingly, that these same standards are more or less universal.
I was reminded of this while traveling through South Africa. We couldn’t get used to bathtubs and basins in older establishments that were equipped with separate taps for hot and cold water – but no mixer.
Obviously, the smart thing to have done was to run a bath but that involved a whole set of assumptions all connected to other people’s germs and how clean the hotel bathrooms really were. (I doubt we had brought bleach with us!)
So it got me thinking about our preoccupation with germs. Don’t get me wrong, I know they can be deadly. A co-worker once went on vacation and a few weeks after returning, fell into a coma from which she never recovered. But that’s an extreme situation.
Germs are everywhere, including on our own bodies. So why have we become so preoccupied with something we can never get rid of? Have we become phobic?
Whenever we women use public bathrooms, we squat or line the toilet seats with covers and never touch the taps or door handles after we wash our hands.
We spray the air to camouflage normal, everyday odors and ourselves to control and mask our natural scents.
Following the 2009 H1N1 scare, hand sanitizers became ubiquitous at office doors, restrooms and outside elevators, even though washing with soap and water would have been sufficient.
Of course, the more potent the products we develop to combat everyday bacteria that simple soap and water can counteract, the more resistant they will become eventually.
Will a day come when we export to other countries those bacteria that have become resistant here, like H1N1 came here?
Further, should we extend our germ-free bubble of protection when we travel abroad?