A few weeks ago, I was making lunch. I took up a roma tomato to slice, and noticed it had a bad spot at one end. I cut off about a third, cut 3 or 4 slices, and had an equal amount left. I tossed the bad bit in the trash and then realized I’d accidentally thrown the good bit away. It was sitting right on top of the trash can, atop a pile of perfectly clean papers that Donn had cleaned out of his car and should have put in the recycling. So I rescued it. I heard a sort of strangled sound and looked up to see two of Elliot’s friends, two teenaged boys, staring at me in abject horror. “You just took food out of the trash can?” one of them almost whispered.

I was gentle. I didn’t mock them (to their faces). I didn’t tell them about people who dumpster dive. Instead, I washed off the offending bit, just to appease them, although they were definitely unappeased, even when I ate it myself so they wouldn’t have to worry about getting it served to them. I explained, but to no avail. Apparently if their mothers threw away a perfectly good third of a tomato by mistake, there it would lie, undisturbed, even if it landed in a nest of clean receipts from gas stations.

The other day, I had to buy a new mop. I was looking at those Swisher mops and wondering if they were any good. I asked the girl working at Target. “Yeah it works great. I used to have one, but I didn’t like it,” she told me. When I asked why, she said, “After you mop the floor, you have to take off the towel, and you have to touch it, and it’s really gross.”

I know you’re thinking, but these are young people, who have never raised children, changed diapers, dealt with toddlers who have no concept of trying to make it to the bathroom before anything unfortunate happens. And you are right. But I think this is symptomatic of something larger. I wrote once, years ago now, about a time I saw a mother who wouldn’t let her daughter drink from a drinking fountain because it was “dirty.” Even before I lived overseas I wasn’t too uptight, but living in the desert definitely stretched me, to where I am more worried about wasting food than I am about possible germs that might be on perfectly clean paper. Years of drinking three rounds of sweet mint tea from tiny glasses that aren’t washed between rounds, only rinsed, or shaking hands with children who live in tents with no running water and very little daily hygiene, changes your perspective. The concept of double-dipping just isn’t going to gross out the person who’s bought fly-covered meat with the hoof still attached from an outdoor vendor who’s sitting in the baking sun, or taken a large bite out of a sandwich only to find half a locust baked into it. (I’m still grossed out by goat intestines though, just so you know)

That said, there are times when even I want to whisper in a strangled voice, “Please tell me you didn’t just do that.” There was the time I watched L dressing a salad. She sprinkled on lemon juice and olive oil and salt, then plunged her unwashed hands in to mix it. (No problems) Then she lifted out a strip of lettuce, touched it to her tongue, nodded, and dropped it back in the bowl.

Two weeks ago, I was visiting L and her 2 year-old niece, an adorable child with enormous eyes and a head of tangled curls. The child had a cold, complete with husky voice and nasty cough. We were sitting in L’s room, eating Doritos from the enormous stack she keeps underneath her bed, when the toddler pointed to a bright shiny pink lip gloss. “She loves it,” explained L, applying it to the child’s lips. The child then pointed at me, and before I could stop her, L had put the same lip gloss on me. I didn’t say anything, but in my head I was staring at her in abject horror. I knew I was going down, and sure enough a few days later I woke up croaky myself. That was also the visit where the child wanted gum so L just gave her half of what she already had in her mouth. Ew.

But I sometimes have a hard time straddling the two worlds. It’s not uncommon for my Iraqi friends to eat from a serving bowl with the same spoon they are using for their own private plates. I don’t care–I’ve had years of training–but the scary thing is that I may be getting too relaxed. Surely it’s only a matter of time before I move from grossing out the sensitive teens to grossing out my friends, to where I forget and plunge my own personal spoon into the guacamole, and double and triple dip my chips.

hands

(I made a Mauritanian dish the other night and we all ate on the floor, with our hands, for old times’ sake)

So where do you fall on the germaphobe scale? Do you freak out if other people double-dip, or take a drink from your glass? Or does it require something more like sharing lip gloss with a 2 year old to bother you? Have I ever grossed you out?

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