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Thinking pop culture

When cleaning gets creepy


He and I were sitting in a Chinese restaurant. They’d forgotten to bring us our food and we were handed a small bowl of damp peanuts to dissuade us from gnawing our chairs.

As you do when you’ve been denied food for hours, I reached into the bowl and took one. And my companion - in all his thorough politeness - spoke aloud his displeasure that my naked fingers had gone straight in. Narrowed eyes, a bitten tongue and yet another epiphany that things between us were… wrapping up.

The worst thing is I don’t even really like peanuts.

When I was 19 I went on a road trip with my one of two of my sanity-challenged grandmothers. Think Everest sans Sherpas. Seconds inside the hotel room and she turned on the kettle. No one was getting a cuppa. Apparently everything needed to be good and “scalded” before we could use it. Sinks and glasses and tabletops. Each treated to a good splashin’ of a crazy woman with a steaming jug.

The other grandmother – I would have been four or five at the time – took me once on a shopping trip into Myer. Together in a cubicle – while I danced my desperate jib in the corner - she proceeded to gift wrap the toilet.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be neurotic. I consider it however, a professional hazard if not, quite clearly, more than a tad biological. My neurosis however, most certainly does not extend to germaphobia.

I’m newly home from a few months in the US. For all that I love about the country the one thing that drives me absolutely mental is the compulsive sanitizing.

I was in a colleague’s office there recently. My bum had only just hit the seat when she opened her desk drawer. Expressing the same hospitality she’d have used if offering me a mint or a coffee, she asked - shining the brightest of American smiles - “Would you like some hand sanitiser?”

Um, no I bloody wouldn’t it, but thank you for implying that I seem filthy to you. “Sure thanks, that’d be… lovely.” Yes, let us sit together and rub jellied alcohol around in our palms as though we’re warming them by the fire.

During trips to the US I’ve witnessed vigorous altercations in supermarkets where people dared partake of deli samples without pumping out a few wads of sanitiser first. Of the foulest of language bellowed out when gym equipment was insufficiently rubbed down with decontaminant post-workout.

What the hell is going on? Since when did we default to thinking those around us are disgusting?

Yep, it’s a real ad and a real product.

Am I the only person who would rather assume that most people operate with a general sense of decent hygiene and leave it at that?

For me, two interesting things come out of the sanitising madness. One: The power of marketing. Just as we didn’t know we were grubs before the first soap ads appeared in the late 1700s, the exact same thing is playing out today. We’re not ever really plague-free until we feel that cool rush of air as the Kool-aid evaporates off our skin.

Two: The delusion of control. We know we can’t regulate what’s happening in the restaurant kitchen, nor what animals or crops are fed or watered with on farms. We can however control whether we put that lettuce into a trolley that we’ve polished with antibacterial wipes or if we douse our cutlery in sanitiser before hoeing into our steak.

And there I thought the goal of humanity was getting closer to others, not double-dipping them in disinfectant before we touch them.

According to The Shins it’s caring that is creepy.

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