My friend is putting together a book on mobile phone etiquette. I’ve been trying to convince her that it’s too late. Things have gone too far and people are too far gone for such a book to prove effective. People are no longer able to disconnect themselves from their phones. Phones are wagging the dog now, taking people to weddings, to funerals, and phones are guests of honour at the family dinner table. Even the bathroom gets a look in. I’ve been predicting for years that in a generation or two scientists will cut out the middle man and find a way to chip babies at birth leaving their hands free.
I had an experience recently that confirmed to me that mothers aren’t training up their children about hygiene and that those scientists really need to hurry. I was at the ladies’ toilet at the local shopping centre waiting for my grandson to come out of his cubicle when a woman arrived, walked into a toilet holding a mobile phone in her left hand and tapped at it with her right. She looked up long enough to check that her cubicle was free, then walked in holding it and walked out still holding her phone. Without taking her eyes off the phone she turned on the cold tap waved the offending right hand under it for an instant, shook off the excess water and took her eyes off the phone long enough to tie back the apron she was wearing. Heavens knows what it cost her to be separated from her lifeline for an instant. I pictured that apron grazing the ground as she sat down and shuddered.
I know this woman, she works at a takeaway place that makes delicious sandwiches and salads. My grandson and I often eat there once we’ve had a browse at the local library. We watch her handle our food. I could have said something that day and embarrassed her, but it wouldn’t have changed her philosophy on cleanliness being overrated. And I hate confrontation. I was worried that my grandson would come out and witness it. At the age of four he wouldn’t have had a problem pointing and talking loudly about the lady with the yucky germs. Thankfully they never crossed paths; she had left before E came out and washed his hands as he’d been taught to do. He couldn’t understand why I was dithering about where to go.
Actually, who am I kidding? Even before the arrival of mobile phones, there were posters tacked to the bathroom walls at some of the eating places I’ve been to, urging staff to wash their hands. There’s an understanding between the hospitality industry and the consumer. We expect our food to be fresh, the restaurant and amenities clean and we put our trust in the cooks who prepare our meals. And if their hands aren’t clean then we hope we never find out because it means that we will have to go back to the old days when dining out was an occasional treat. Cooking creatively for special occasions is one thing, revisiting the daily drudge of being chained to the kitchen sink is another. I can’t see any of us willing to take a step back.
There are health regulations of course, but there’s no regulating what someone does in the privacy of the bathroom or toilet cubicle. It came as a shock to me when the Health Department closed the local dumpling shop down. Not permanently. This was a temporary measure until the owners could, excuse me, clean up their act. My sons took me there for mother’s day one year. Waiters brought out layered trolleys of dumplings steaming under individual Bain Maries. There were vegetarian dumplings, meat and seafood dumplings and dipping sauces, all sorts. The dining area was clean, the waiters presentable and their snowy white aprons spotless. Apparently the kitchen was not. After reading about the uninvited diners (rats, cockroaches and other vermin) I’ve taken to preparing my dumplings at home. Easier that you would think. I plan to publish some recipes soon.
I bought a couple of freshly baked rolls for my grandson and for me and we ate them, but I couldn’t help thinking about the bakers in the back room working the machines at four in the morning preparing those rolls. I foresaw myself becoming paranoid about not only restaurants but also every blessed processed product on the supermarket shelf. Do I let the memory of that day slide into the subconscious, or should I stay home and prepare my own meals? Or is there a third option?