Stickman Readers' Submissions February 3rd, 2009

Employees Must Wash Hands

Thais pride themselves on being very clean. In fact they are so clean that you will notice your water bill more than double soon after acquiring a Thai girlfriend. It seems their solution to almost every discomfort or trouble is to take another shower! A typical Thai girl’s evening routine is to enter the bathroom at which point you will hear the water begin to run. Approximately 45 minutes later the water will be turned off and she will emerge in a new outfit with a liberal swathing of baby powder all over her body (after all since the powder is white it will make her skin whiter, right?) My typical evening routine is to wash my face, brush my teeth, and sleep in the shirt and underpants I wore that day. I don’t see the point in changing clothes, as it just creates more wash. If I did some outdoor work that day I will take a shower and change clothes, but that is only several times a month. My showers are normally done in the morning.

How many of you have had a girl crinkle her nose and feign refusal to sleep with you if you do not partake in the second mandatory shower? You can reason all you want that you didn’t do anything that would make you dirty today, but this will not satisfy her. You are required to march straight into the bathroom and stand under the water for a minimum of five minutes to wash the nasties away.

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Me being the rebel that I am I usually just sit on the toilet and read a book while the water runs into the drain, take that Al Gore. I know it is not a full-fledged rebellion, but as our arguments go the shower one seems to be the one thing she won’t budge on. Like many things in this region it is really all for show and once you scratch the surface you will find things are not quite so hygienic after all.

Recently I was scheduled to meet some of my lady’s friends at 1pm in a McDonald’s. Occasionally I am forced to attend these gatherings because she likes to cart me around so everyone can be impressed that she bagged a foreigner who speaks Thai and is not old enough to be her father. By 3pm all and sundry had arrived. They were only two hours late this time so it was already off to a positive start. We headed off to Hot Pot which for those not in the know is much different from your typical restaurant in the west. Your party is given one or more large pots of boiling broth and a raw buffet of various meats and produce to choose from. You each choose a portion of the ingredients that is combined to make a soup. Sometimes it is quite delicious, but usually just disgusting and under/over cooked.

Thai girls love to play the motherly role so they were all jockeying to be the one to add the ingredients into the mix. As soon as I saw the bare hands handling the uncooked food a red light went off in my head and I grabbed my girlfriend’s arm and said, “They washed their hands first, right?”

I got the lights on, but nobody’s home look as she automatically answered, “Yes of course!”

I said, “When?”

After a moment of hesitation she responded, “In McDonald’s.”

To this I replied, “That was like 2 hours ago and since then we have opened at least five doors and rode in a taxi not to mention that girl who is rubbing her hands all over the vegetables was cleaning up baby puke up not two minutes ago!”

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The words seemed lost on her. I could see in her eyes that she felt it would not be polite or prudent to alarm the others seated to the risks of food borne illness now being dumped into the water.

Soon enough a bowl of soup was placed in front of me. I turned my nose up at it and announced I would not be eating this soup. This of course my girlfriend quickly noted and there I sat for the better part of two hours munching on any pre-cooked food I could find in the buffet. I felt I might have been over cautious, but I was just so offended that a girl would blatantly handle everyone’s food without having the courtesy to sanitize her hands.

As we made our way home after parting ways with the gaggle of chirping Thai girls I laid into my girlfriend about letting that go on. She was taken off guard, as she was also mad at me for not eating the soup. I understood that by refusing the soup in the manner I did it was a little rude, but she refused to acknowledge my opinion at all let alone concede that we were most likely eating squid spiced with regurgitated baby food. Back and forth we went until eventually we stalemated and went back to our respective domiciles to pout respectively.

This anecdote lasted a little longer than I had intended, but the point is this, don’t assume your food is clean! Even in upscale expensive restaurants look with a skeptical eye at the food. It is not uncommon to see someone handle money then immediately handle food. You will rarely see plastic gloves worn while preparing your meal so if a place looks dirty it probably is! Most real Thai restaurants display not only the kitchen, but also the raw food for you to inspect. Take the time to look at the food, does it look fresh? Is it being gnawed on by flies? Stand up for yourself and your health by telling your party, “No I am not going to eat here because it looks dirty!” Thais love to turn their noses up at the smelly foreigners for not adhering to their bathing practices, but the reality is that like most Asians who are too concerned with the outward they allow what is really important to suffer as long as others believe the show that is put on.

Finally, men please do not be afraid to tell your girl she stinks. Some of the food they eat is heavily seasoned with fish sauce and garlic. She can have a halo of stench around her that will knock you out. Believe me, she won’t notice it and neither toothpaste nor minty gum will clear it up. Any time I invite a girl to share my bed and she comes over with that stink I send her packing and I tell her, “You ate something that stinks and I cannot be around you!” You may think she will be gone for good, but believe me getting rid of some of these girls will take a lot more than that so stand up for yourself! She made you take an extra shower so make her drop the dang garlic!

Stickman's thoughts:

I am in 100% agreement at the lack of hygiene when it comes to food preparation and just general food handling in Thailand. There seems to be a real lack of awareness.

I am kind of surprised you only have one shower a day. I find that you only need a few minutes outdoors to get a bit of a sweat going…and besides, I simply find you feel better going to bed clean. YMMV.

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