You hear it all the time—someone being labeled a “germaphobe.” Some, like Howie Mandel, wear the title almost proudly. Good for him. Others either ignore it, or are embarrassed by the name-calling—and it is name-calling. But is it really about… germs?
For some, it probably is—but not for all of us. Personally, I don’t like touching certain things in public places either. Not because I’m a so-called “germaphobe,” but because people can be… well… pretty nasty. They pick their noses, sneeze all over their hands, and more people than you even want to know about don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom or changing their baby’s diaper. It’s sad, but true. As unique and wonderful as people can be, they are often… well… very unclean. Nasty, even. Spreaders of… filth.
So it’s not really about the “germs.” At least it’s not for me, and I have to believe that there are others out there who feel the same way. Germs are part of life. They are everywhere—on us, inside us, and on every surface. There is literally no way to live apart from bacteria and viruses. So except for taking ordinary precautions against exposing myself to sick people, I could care less about bacteria, for the most part. For me, it’s the nasty stuff that people smear all over the place that grosses me out. Seriously. Stuff you probably wouldn’t even believe.
Until a few years ago, I never even thought about any of this stuff. I went about my life like most people, and never gave a single thought to the things I was touching in public. And then my oldest daughter wrote a paper in college about the dirtiest and germiest surfaces in public places. When she shared it with me, I was appalled—disgusted—incredulous, at some of the stuff she had learned. I was changed—immediately and forever. Sure, there are germs on all surfaces, but the real problem—for me… was the human filth that was to be found, literally everywhere! Things like:
- Human and animal fecal matter (That’s other people’s poop!)
- Human blood
- Mucus (You know, snot and boogers!)
- Human vaginal secretions (Ugh!!!)
- Ear wax, skin flakes, hairs, and other things
Sick! Gross! Disgusting! Right? And guess what… now it’s on your hands! And then as you scratch a small itch, it’s on your face. Other people’s poop and vaginal secretions are on your face! And as you sweep your hair back behind your ear, it’s in your hair. And then as you shake hands with your friend, you pass it to them. And then as you comfort your child, it’s on your child’s face. And then as you eat lunch with your friends, it’s in your mouth and in your digestive tract. And then you get into your car and smear it in your car, and you go home and now it’s on your phone, your refrigerator handle, your door knobs, the milk carton… Well, you get the idea.
According to what I’ve read, some of the most common public places you find this kind of nastiness smeared are:
- Door knobs and handles.
- Shopping cart handles (and the area where young children sit).
- Gas pump nozzles.
- Public bathrooms.
- Escalator handrails.
- Restaurant & food court tables and chairs.
- ATM and store payment keypads.
- Publically displayed computer keyboards, iPads/iPods, information kiosks, etc.
- Publically used ink pens.
- Child play equipment in parks (which has been found to be far worse than a public bathroom)
In fact, shopping cart handles are among the filthiest public surfaces around. So, YES! Every time you go shopping, actual human feces and vaginal secretions are on your shopping cart handle—along with most of the other disgusting things listed above. And they are on the gas pump nozzle, and the door handle to your favorite restaurant or public hangout spot. This may not bother some people, but to me it is way beyond disgusting. And when I factor in all the secondary contamination to myself, my children, my home, etc., it’s no longer just about me. Even if I didn’t mind it (which I obviously do), it seems extremely disrespectful for me to mindlessly expose my children and others to that sort of nastiness without their knowledge and consent. So out of respect for myself and the others in my life, I avoid touching most things in public if I can. I try not to go overboard about it, but the idea of putting that stuff in my mouth and on my face is just sickening to me. So, as I said, I take certain… precautions. Here are some of the ways I try to eliminate my exposure to the (literally) “human waste” that is found in so many public places:
- I put a plastic produce bag over the shopping cart handle in the grocery store.
- I use a paper towel to hold the nozzle at the gas pump.
- I open doors with a napkin or an old receipt from my pocket—and then throw it away.
- I use my own pen to sign my name, rather than the publically available pen.
- I don’t touch escalator handrails.
- I use my pinky finger on ATM and store payment keypads and clean it with an antibacterial wipe when I get to the car, if they aren’t available in the store.
Other than that, I pretty much do things just like everyone else. Sure my family and I get funny looks occasionally from people for taking the precautions that we do, and one can only imagine the judgmental things that go through their minds. It doesn’t happen very often because we’re as discrete as possible, but you just know that they think you are the weird one for not wanting to put your hands in someone else’s poop—only they think it’s about germs. And it’s not really their fault, so I don’t let it bother me. They’ve just been taught to think that way and to judge others by their favorite celebrities and television gossip-mongers.
People are funny, though, in that they hate to be labeled or called names, but most love to label others, and are often quick to do so—and usually without the slightest idea of what they are talking about. So I figure that people are going to want to label me (and those like me). So let me help find the right label for them to use. Hmm… If you must label me, maybe you could call me a “Poop-a-phobe.” No, that’s not right, because it’s not really a -phobia. I’m not afraid of it. It just sickens me. I am revolted by it. A very important distinction. Hmm… Let’s see… The suffix “-misia” (pronounced, “meez-ia”) is Greek for “disgust for, revulsion of” so I guess one could label me a “Filth-a-misiac” since I am quite disgusted and revolted by the thought of touching public surfaces smeared with other people’s body waste. (Ugh!!) Other forms of our newest label might be:
- Filth-a-misia (the “condition” itself)
- Filth-a-misiac (the afflicted person)
- Filth-a-misiatic (when referring to a symptom of the “condition”)
So there you go. Label away. I can take it.
As you can see, for me at least… it’s sooooo not about the germs. It’s about the nasty, inconsiderate, disrespectful people out there who don’t wash their hands and then smear their bodily secretions and fluids all over the place! I’d bet there are other “Filth-a-misiacs” like me out there, too—or there would be… if they only knew. So the next time you see someone taking precautions against touching surfaces in public, try not to be so quick to label them a “germaphobe” and think badly of them. It just might not be about the germs after all.
Oh… and please… don’t forget to wash your hands. Thanks.
Happy shopping! 😀
*** By the way, a nice secondary benefit is that I haven’t been sick in years—literally.