Friday, November 10, 2006

Environment? Are we Northern Europeans not very clean?

In Tbilisi I am waging a never-ending war against plastic bags. Everything, bar the bread, is wrapped in plastic bags. You go into a shop, pick up a tiny tray of salad, and it is put into a shop-sized plastic bag. The stalls at the streetside wrap everything in plastic bags. One time I bought a carton of juice in a shop with the intention of popping it into my backpack, and it was a hard struggle dissuading the shop owner from wrapping it into plastic. She said 'Kultura!' Obviously it is a cultural thing to wrap everything. People are always surprised when I refuse the plastic bag.
Another thing is the hygiene. As a northern European I often get unpleasant foodborne infections when working and living in warmer countries further south. But watching people here I wonder if we Northerners are just pigs? In Muslim countries all restaurants have handwashing facilities before people go in, and those Muslims who visited Lithuania always insisted on washing their hands before eating. People wash all fruit very thoroughly; yesterday someone was washing the oranges before peeling them. In Istanbul airport the toilets are exemplary, fully equipped with bidet functions as well. Where it is possible, people in the South are a great deal more hygiene conscious than in the North. That might be another reason why we Northerners get infections more often than those living in the South (apart from being used to local germs).

This is also confirmed in the baths, where people stand under a thin dribble (though thicker than in my domestic shower) and soap themselves, then peel themselves, then soap themselves again. It can take a good hour, but particularly in the winter it may be the only time where women have space and time to themselves without a large family hammering on the bathroom door.