“Daddy! Daddy! There’s that weird lady! Look, Daddy, look!”
Pointing straight at me, the child at the
I was wearing an eye mask too, and ear plugs, and there was a cloud of lavender fragrance around me from the essential oil that I discreetly dabbed on my mask and temples. (Lavender oil is antibacterial.) I changed my mask regularly, and every so often I sprayed it with ultra-colloidal silver to keep it moist and uber-germ-free. In my pocket, as always, were a bottle of alcohol-based antibacterial gel and packets of antibacterial wipes for any new hard surface I would have to encounter. While I do this routinely for my own protection, if I were ill, I would be protecting others too.
The realm of a germophobe is fraught with fear, angst, and, as the rest of the world is discovering, good sense. As a psychologist once told me, anxiety disorders can also be productive. The world is full of unseen hazards, invisible, insidious, and random. While dirt and soil are straightforward in their visibility, microscopic hazards lurk everywhere, waiting for the opportunity to find new hosts and pounce.
husband and I have used germ filter masks for more than a decade now, and it always surprises us that more travelers don’t adopt this
practice. Inevitably, we are the only ones on the flight wearing masks. How many times have I sat across the aisle from a cougher,
healthy me in my mask, the cougher hacking openly, polluting the cabin with abandon? Could it be the westerner’s sense of pride? The
Japanese think nothing of wearing masks on
Naysayers contend that exposure to germs helps build immunity. There are more than enough opportunities in daily life for hostile microbes to slip through the cracks and challenge my immunity, thank you—in the air, at the drugstore, on magazines and menus, on shopping carts and baskets, even with the store-provided wipes.
Will the swine flu change things?
We’ll see. As the cliché goes, old habits die hard. Yet, in
Social graces are the most difficult to navigate in a newly germophobic culture. Personal practices—avoiding or wiping down handles, holding your breath in elevators, wearing a mask, opening doors with paper towels (or pushing with a well-clothed elbow)—are solitary choices that are easy to make because they do not involve social interaction. But when a hand is extended or a cheek is offered, it’s harder to behave like a pariah.
A friend from
Since I am already a pariah, having been inducted into the Weird-Lady-Club by hand-pointing children at airports, I herewith serve notice to anyone I may meet: Please do not be offended if I don’t readily extend my hand. It’s nothing personal. How about a fist bump, or sincere eye contact instead?