Taking Tea in the Kasbah

I have two dear friends whom I adore and who are self-proclaimed Germaphobes. They aren’t what you might think of as the classic Germaphobe because they don’t have separate houses from their families like Howie Mandel. He is a major Germaphobe. My two friends? They are the Lite version. Sure, their heart rates may go up a few notches if you offer them a bite of your half-eaten cookie. They’ll politely, yet firmly decline it, but they won’t freak out over it. At least not while you’re standing there.

photo credit: nettsu via photopin cc

photo credit: nettsu via photopin cc

I met Kaitlyn* when we decided to rent a house together while attending graduate school. At first, I didn’t suspect she was a Germaphobe. In fact, she hides her Lite version of Germaphobia so well, I would bet very few people today know this fact about her. But when you share a house with someone, you are privy to all of their daily routines and preferences: placement of the utensils at the table, where and how they hang up their bath and hand towels, and the discrete washing of hands when they think no one is looking. It didn’t take long before I realized I was residing with a Germaphobe Lite.

My friend, Martha*, is someone I’ve worked with for the last fifteen years. She and I first worked together in a day treatment classroom with kids ages 5-10. As you may already know, classrooms are ground zero for all any and all germs on the planet. Then, if you add in 8-10 children who have emotional regulation difficulties, poor social skills, and occasional body fluid regulation problems (sometimes on purpose) and you have what most Germaphobes would call Armageddon. But not Martha. She was so committed to working with these traumatized souls that she developed ingenious ways of doing her job while keeping the Grim Reaper at bay. Having lived with Kaitlyn, I quickly picked up on her germ-avoidant ways and discovered I in was in the good company of another Germaphobe Lite.

Because I have learned the ways of the Germaphobe (read: I’ve become a Vicarious Germaphobe Lite) and am a generous soul, I will share with you how to be friends with one. Follow my handy guide and you, too, can have deep, lasting friendships with these endearing, lovely people.

1. When befriending a Germaphobe of any kind, the most important thing to keep in mind is that they see you as a walking sack of illness-inducing germs. Don’t worry, though. You’re in good company. In the eyes of a Germaphobe, each and every one of us is completely marinated in highly contagious viruses and bacteria that can, at any moment, put you and them on death’s door. This will help you understand the look of terror they get when you offer them a sip of your tasty beverage after you’ve already taken a drink.

2. Assume that when you come up to a Germaphobe Lite with your hand extended for a handshake or your arms out wide for a hug, only 10% of their mind will be focused on how glad they are to see you. The other 90% of their mental faculties will be preoccupied with figuring out how soon they’ll be able to sneak away to sanitize themselves. Don’t be offended. Look at it as them doing a generous public service act because they are single-handedly preventing colds and flus from being spread from person to person. The buck – and the germ – stops with them. Personally, I think they should be given an award for this. Don’t you?

credit: thedimka via photopin cc

credit: thedimka via photopin cc

3. Never, ever, under any circumstances, touch their food or any communally shared food with your bare hands in their presence. Even if you just washed your hands as though you were about to perform brain surgery on your favorite relative, don’t do it. If you do slip up and touch something, just know the Germaphobe will avoid it like it’s biohazardous material. Judicious use of recently sanitized utensils is highly recommended when dining with the Germaphobe. It’s also just good practice.

4. Also on the Germaphobe’s mind? Surfaces. Namely, the public surfaces out there in the world that all of us germ-infested people touch and contaminate with our germs. Door knobs. Banisters. Railings. Buttons on elevators. Key pads for your PIN at stores and ATM’s. Copy machines. Menus, condiment bottles, and salt and pepper shakers at restaurants. Arm rests and tray tables on planes.** Handles on the grocery cart. Light switches. Floors. All of these are surfaces are viewed as potentially lethal. Don’t be surprised if you see a Germaphobe engaging in parkour-worthy moves in order to avoid direct contact with them.. If they are somehow forced to touch one of these surfaces, I recommend not standing between them and the soap.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

5. If you are feeling sick, have a headache, have been around someone who has been or is presently ill, or are even thinking about a time you were under the weather, know that you are now the Germaphobe’s biggest nightmare and the embodiment of Death. Consider yourself whphx12d and limit all communication with them to email and the phone. Don’t expect to get within forty feet of them for the next month. That’s just common courtesy on your part. With bacteria and viruses mutating all the time, who knows how long you’re contagious for?

Follow these simple rules in good faith and you, too, can have fulfilling and sanitary friendships with a Germaphobe. Go forth, wise readers, and be friendly in your least germ-spreading ways. We will all thank you.


*Names have been changed. One can never be too cautious when it comes to germs.

** In the spirit of full disclosure, I developed this one after I thought about the grossness of surfaces on planes. That’s what happens when you hang out with Germaphobes. They completely infiltrate your mind with their Germaphobe ways. But in all fairness, have you ever considered how rarely the airlines actually clean the tray tables and arm rests or how many people who do not wash their hands after sneezing or using the bathroom have touched them? I’ll bet you are now. You’re welcome. That’s why I came up with the ingenious idea of always bringing disinfecting wipes with me when I fly. With the speed and stealth of a ninja, I wipe down my tray table and arm rests before my fellow passengers have fastened their seat belts. Feel free to do the same the next time you travel. If we all work together, flying will become much more safe and sanitary, one disinfected tray table at a time.

21 thoughts on “How to Be Friends With A Germaphobe

  1. I have a Germaphobe Lite friend, but since I’ve never shared a house with one I didn’t realize the extent of her anxiousness until reading your post. I have my own *lite*anxiety issues to deal with, so I don’t judge. But I used to wonder why she was so standoffish when it came to her animals which she claimed she loved. Now I know. 😉

    • As you could probably tell, I’ve got my own Germaphobe Lite issues as well. I certainly hope this didn’t come across as judging them – I have laughed with and playfully teased both of my friends about their attention to detail when it comes to staying healthy and avoiding germ-riddled things. I’ve actually learned a lot from them and then some.

  2. Well, who knew? Enlightening post. I’ve observed increased use of hand sanitisers in the last ten years or so. I know people who carry it in their handbag for use before eating in cafes. I confess I do eye door handles with suspicion on occasion, especially in public bathrooms…

    • I’ve also observed a sharp increase in hand sanitizers over the last decade as well. I’m really not a fan of them myself. I’d rather just go wash my hands with some soap. That said, I’m certainly not compulsive about it though I do firmly adhere to never leaving the bathroom without a good hand washing. I’m always shocked and amazed at the number of people who don’t.

  3. Good tips. I may be a germaphobe lite, but I wasn’t always this way. My condition developed and grew over time after having my kids and experiencing simultaneous triple sicknesses. That alone made me suspicious of shopping carts, door handles and noone flushes the toilet with their foot better than me 😉

    • I’ve definitely moved further down the germaphobe lite continuum after repeatedly getting sick with seemingly intractable colds when I first started working with kids. Then when my kids would come home with strep or a nasty stomach virus, I would invariably get it for twice as long as they had it. I don’t stress over it, I’ve just incorporated certain things into my everyday routine to keep myself healthy. I’ve not taken to flushing toilets with my foot, though I try to never touch a bathroom door handle if I can reasonably avoid it. I’ve seen too many people exit a public bathroom without washing their hands. Ew.

    • Two things, Liv:

      1) He will never find out because he’ll never discover my blog. My idiosyncratic traits are safely hidden in the kasbah. Well, as hidden as they can be on the interwebz.

      2) On the most remotest of chances he ever did discover these things about me and gave it more than a millisecond of his time, I’d like to think he would be appreciative of my tray table/arm rest disinfecting tip seeing as he frequently flies for his work. I imagine it is quite costly for producers, directors, etc. to stop production whenever a lead actor falls ill, so it’s really both a cost saving measure as well as a humanitarian act. Then, when the W.H.O. signs him on as a spokesperson promoting good flying habits, being the classy guy that he is, he would, of course, credit me with the idea. Several airlines would then give me thousands and thousands of miles so I can finally take that ’round the world trip I’ve always dreamed of taking.

      Either way, I think I’m golden. Thanks for asking. 😉

  4. Oh my. I never thought of airplane tray tables that way.
    I don’t know if I have germaphobe issues or if I am in denial. I used to be a nurse. We did things like swab various surfaces, touch the swab to a petri dish and wait for it to grow. It was amazing. Shortly after that experiment, we quit wearing the traditional nurse cap because of all the things that grew in the petri dish.
    But I will share cookies with a friend IF it’s a really good cookie. I will not eat something if it has fallen on the floor.

    • Working as a nurse, I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of germy stuff. It only took one time seeing a man with a nasty cold cough and sneeze into his hands and then push back on the arm rests during a long flight for my mind to wonder how many other nasty germs were coating those things. Thoughts about the tray table came shortly after.

      And I would totally share a cookie with someone, especially if it’s a homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. Germs wouldn’t dare exist on one of those. 😉

  5. I kinda, sorta, mostly think that maybe I’m a germaphobe in denial. I truly want to care less than I do, but I suspect that my former innocence (nee ignorance) of the germy state-of-the-union was forever lost several years ago when I watched a *Special* expose on the tv show 20/20. The reporter took one of those special black-lites into a motel room to show — lets just say, stuff we’re better off never EVER thinking about. The follow-up show about restaurant kitchens pretty much sealed the deal for future gemaphobia.

    • I’ve seen those 20/20 shows where they reveal all kinds of nasty stuff in public places. It’ll put you off ever staying in a hotel again.

      I say embrace your germaphobia, let it out and let it shine. You’re in good company. 🙂

  6. on ,
    Mary Ann said:

    I liked your vantage point of how to be friends w germophobe and what they are “thinking” at various points

    • Thanks, Mary Ann! I like that you stopped by and commented here and not just from across the office at work. 😉

  7. on ,
    Marcia said:

    Tami you made me laugh all during my lunch break! I am a genuine
    Germaphobe Lite and everything you said was right on target….full bull’s eye hit. I plan on sending this one out to all my friends and family so they can follow your germaphobe guidelines to a better life with me! (-: I’d hug you but it’s safer to say “Love and hugs” by post!

    • You’re hilarious, Marcia. Thanks for sharing this with your friends and family! Hopefully everyone in your life better understands you. You’re welcome. I’d hug you, too, but I’ll just nod and wave at ya from across the office. 😉

  8. on ,
    Mei-ling said:

    OMG! I don’t know how I stumbled onto your page but I’m glad I did. I read ur germaphobe story. I’m a nurse and I’m somewhat of a germaphobe and I can not stand using public toilets! So I found this item (Venus) it’s a female dispossiable urination aid. You stand up to urinate! U NEVER HAVE TO GO NEAR THE BOWL! I absolutely love it. They also make them for little girls. There called (MyLittleHelper) soo cute… These two items saved me soooo many times! Hope this helps your germaphobic friends.It really helped me alot.The site also talks about all the Unhygienic hazards in public facilities AHHHH! . Here’s the site myvenusnow.com

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