Even after 5 years in the UK, as an Italian I am still shocked by the hygiene crimes I witness on a daily basis in and outside the kitchen. Some are quite well known while some others are more subtle but still very gross. An hygiene revolution is needed.
- Britons don’t usually rinse dishes. For those not familiar with what I am talking about….You had dinner and you have a pile of dirty dishes. How do you clean them? Fill the sink with hot water, add soap, dip the dishes in the water and brush them with a sponge. Take them out the water, shake them a bit and place them on the plate rack. That’s it? What about the soap and dirt still on the plates? When the water dries up you can still see the residue on the dishes. And imagine how dirty the water it gets, dish after dish: GROSS! The first time I saw that happening I thought we run out of water and that was a one off. When I realised the water was actually running but it was just the normal habit not to rinse them, I was astonished.
- Don’t wash fruit and veggies. Fruit is covered not just by pesticides, but also by dust and by the dirt of whoever picked the fruit, put it in a box and placed it on the supermarket shelves. Still, most Brits buy their grapes or apples or peaches and they eat them straight away. In the best cases they just quickly rub the fruit against their sleeves, as if it would make a difference! A study in the UK has verified there is faecal matter on over 70% of shopping cart handles and that this is transferred to the surface of the food (including fruit) on the shelves just by touching, for example to check how ripe it is. Mmmmm, tasty! In Italy we may be a bit too extreme but we are educated since we are kid to wash fruits and veggies. Always! We also often wash most of fruit and vegetables in water and Amuchina (an antibacterial for food). We don’t really like eating someone else’s poo.
- Don’t use table cloths. You can be the poorest family in Italy, but a table cloth will never be missing on your table when it’s set up for a meal. In Britain table cloths are used in some high-end restaurants and that’s it. In most cases, you eat straight on the naked table, distractedly wiped with a wet sponge by a waiter that has used the same sponge to clean hundreds of dirty tables before. Do you think that table is really clean? No. Though it should, as you then place on it your cutlery, napkin and even your bread or other food! Would you lick that table? I guess not. So why it should be ok to place on it the cutlery you’ll put in your mouth?
- Touch the ice-cream cone with bare hands while preparing an ice cream for you. Dear British ice-cream makers, please wrap a paper napkin around the cone BEFORE you grab it with your full bare hands and hold on to it while adding the ice cream scoops on its top. I don’t want to have your sweat and hand-dirt on my cone, thank you. I guarantee, unless the ice cream shop is Italian, in the UK the use of napkins is an unknown habit. In Italy, an ice cream shop with such habit would be left with no clients in a week (in a day, if the grandmas of the village go there, see this happening and spread the news through their superefficient channels!!).
- Don’t set up a dining table with napkins when they eat. Several times, when invited by some British friends (though I admit this happens also in other countries) there are no napkins on the table. I NEED a napkin when I eat, I wouldn’t say after every bite but definitely at the end of every dish. I asked around and people confirmed they only rarely uses napkins during a family meal at home. “just give a quick hand-rub to your mouth at the end of the meal” I was told. And the hygiene crimes don’t stop outside the kitchen!
- Most Britons don’t wash their hands. And this is not just me observing it. It has been published over and over even in this recent article by BBC. “It’s peculiar but many people in the UK don’t think they carry any diseases,” said Dr Lisa Ackerley, consultant in environmental hygiene and co-founder of Hygiene Audit Systems. “They live in a country with modern facilities and think things are clean.” Do you think I’m exaggerating? The same study reports that 11% of Britons hands are so “grossly contaminated” they are carrying as many germs as a dirty toilet bowl. Wash your hands next time you shake one.
- Don’t mind sitting on the floor of trains and even on the street. When I am on a train I pay attention to keep my backpack on my lap, avoiding it to touch the floor. The floor of British trains has often a carpet and people, dogs and bikes come in and out daily, impregnating the carpet with any gross stuff you can think of. Several Britons seem not to think the floor is dirty and when the train is full I have seen people sitting on the floor. Some of them even grazing crisps after using the hands to find a comfy position on that corner of the train floor. You often see babies allowed by their moms to crawl on train floors, airplane floors, on a shop floor…everything in the UK must be immaculately clean to let your kid crawl on the floor and then put his hands in the mouth. Italian moms are overprotective (I admit) and they would definitely not let their baby wipe a plane floor with their hands and clothes while crawling. Ewwww!
- Barefoot in public showers and on the streets. common dirt. This doesn’t seem to bother Brits. When I go to the gym I am usually the only one wearing flip flops in the shower; they all go barefoot. One day I actually forgot my flip flops at home, so I kept my white socks to take a shower and walk around the gym locker-rooms before getting dressed: would you like to see a picture of the dirt and hair I found on the socks afterwards? That would be all over my feet. Another common habit is to walk barefoot on the streets of London (or of any other city). Do you have any idea how disgustingly dirty the streets of a rainy city like London can be? Well, several British girls may not realise it. Otherwise I cannot explain why, after a night out on their ridiculously high heels, they decide to take the shoes off to let their feet rest and they walk home BAREFOOT! Then they arrive home and walk on their carpets (cause they all have carpets) and the lovely dirt is transferred from the feet to the carpet. And it will stay there…forever. Think about it next time a crisp fall on your carpet and you think about eating it anyway.
- Cycle to work but no shower afterwards. In the Uk and especially in London public transport is extremely expensive and tiring due to the crowd and heat. For this reasons, and also cause they are very “outdoorsy”, many Britons cycle to work. Hordes of cyclists every morning invade the streets, and that is fantastic: so healthy! Until you realise that several of them are cycling in their work clothes or even in their suits, meaning they will not shower once in the office. I asked some of them how can they cope with it, getting in the office after a long ride and not being able to shower would make me very uncomfortable. “It’s cold in England and I don’t really sweat when I cycle” is the reply. As if the “visible” sweat is the only reason you stink after 40mins on a bike.
- Britons don’t use a bidet. I would like to finish this list with the most famous cliché. Vitally indispensable for any Italian but of arguably of any use for Britons. Trust me: you can rub toilet paper as long as you like, but it won’t get clean. And no (as some Britons asked me with concern), Italians don’t use the bidet straight away!!! Toilet paper first, bidet afterwards: this is the way! I’m sure if bidets were installed in the UK too, they would figure out a way to use it.
Do you think Italians have an OCD condition or Britons should change their habits? I am curious to hear comments from people all over the world.