Custom – USA


“The public bathroom hand washing technique…”

Alexander learned this custom from his grandfather when he was in the 7th grade.  His grandfather, a passionate and devoted doctor, often found and acquired ways of bringing some of his medical skills and habits into the world outside of medicine.  The perfect example of this comes in the form of the “public bathroom hand washing technique” as Alexander calls it.  The theory behind the custom is that bathrooms are filthy beds of bacteria.  Alexander’s grandfather believed that a sure way of getting sick or picking up germs was touching something in a public restroom.  As a result, he taught Alexander this technique as a means of avoiding skin contact with anything in a public restroom.  If you’re lucky, the bathroom operates on automatic sensor devices, in which case you don’t need to touch anything to begin with.  In the event that you do need to touch something, you begin by locating the paper towels.  If there is a fresh stack on the counter, you can pick up the top towel and use that to turn on the faucet as well as dispense soap into your hand.  In the event that there is a knob or roller that you must touch to dispense paper towels, you have to move to plan B.  If you are wearing a long sleeve shirt, you can pull you sleeve down and cover your hand with that.  If not, you can use your elbow to crank the lever (if your elbow gets bacteria on it it’s ok—your elbow doesn’t come in contact with your eyes, ears, nose, mouth very much, just be sure to wash your elbow when you get home).  After using paper towels to get soap and turn on and off the faucet, you need to perform the same operation with the door handle.  To avoid contact with it, use a paper towel to pull it open, and hold it in that position with your foot.  Throw the paper towel into the garbage and walk out.  If the garbage bin is far away, do your best to throw it in but do not sacrifice putting in the garbage by touching something.  Throw it on the floor if you have to.  If you really know what your doing, as my grandfather does, carry around paper towels or tissue at all times so you don’t have to go about the whole paper towel routine, you can just use your own in not touching anything and going about your business.

This technique was taught to Alexander’s grandfather by one of his colleagues.  While it’s a useful way of avoiding bacteria and other germs, it’s almost comical to think about someone using the technique.  His grandfather has made it a custom of his because he finds it extremely significant in maintaining good health.  The extent to which avoiding bathroom germs in a such a manner really keeps us healthy we may not know, but doctors certainly have folkloric customs such as these that they swear by.