FYI

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Go ahead, wash your hands -- if you are a sociopath

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THIS is kind of a delicate subject, so if you are an overly sensitive person you might just want to move on, but it occurred to me recently that the whole idea of washing one's hands in public washrooms, as they are presently constructed, is counterproductive.

Consider the whole process. You go into the comfort station, you pee or you potty, depending on your preference or the compulsion, and you fix yourself up to go back out into the public eye. So far, you have touched almost nothing but yourself; you are no more contaminated by any germs, viruses or bacterial zombies than you were when you went into the loo.

But now you have to wash your hands. This is how the sordid, unsanitary process of doing that unfolds: You turn on the water taps that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people before you have turned on with their germ-defiled hands; you pump the soap dispenser that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people before you have pumped with their virus-laden fingers; you rinse and then, with your newly sanitized hands, you turn off the taps that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people before you have touched, leaving their bacterial zombies behind, just waiting for you. You dry your hands, grab the door handle, that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people before you have grabbed, and exit into the real world, nice and clean and safe for social intercourse.

But are you really? I am speaking here only of what goes on in men's washrooms. I have no idea of how women disport themselves in their own facilities and in this time of political correctness I am not about to ask. But you don't have to be a logician to know what's wrong here. You go into the washroom alone, but no matter how furiously you scrub, you come out with hundreds, perhaps thousands or even millions of new friends whom you will soon introduce to all of your colleagues and people on the bus.

The problem is not your futile fastidiousness -- that is commendable. The problem is the washroom itself. Most public washrooms have doors with handles, sinks with taps, soap dispensers that require some manual dexterity. The design makes the whole process counterproductive.

What is needed, and this has been pointed out many times before, are touchless toilets where you can go and pee or potty and wash and dry your hands without touching anything and exit as clean (or as dirty; let's be honest here) as you came in. Until that is incorporated into washroom design, the true sociopath will remain the guy enthusiastically adding to his germ collection at the sink next to you.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2011 J13

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