"Can you believe that Americans trek germs into their houses on the bottoms of their shoes? Do they enjoy spreading germs from outside all over their floors?"

 We Americans believe ourselves lucky to live in such a hygienic country. But people from other cultures may not agree, pointing to some of our surprisingly unhygienic practices. Here’s a roundup of a few of the “disgusting habits” that can shock people from other cultures when they see Americans practicing them.



 Would you believe that in some countries they use the same room for bodily waste as they do for washing hands and brushing teeth? Oh, wait, that’s true for most Western countries. But a home in Japan may have up to three separate rooms to house the amenities that we generally have all in one bathroom: one room for the bathtub, one for the toilet, and one for the sink. A great way to keep all the germs away from the clean areas, isn’t it?

 Some Japanese would also flinch at the fact that we wear shoes into the bathroom and then out into the rest of the house. Who knows how many bathroom germs we’re tracking all over the floor! In some traditional locations in Japan, you must change from regular slippers into special "bathroom slippers" before entering the restroom.


Washing Up

 Even some practices that seem non-hygenic can lead to people staying cleaner in the long run. For example, many Asian cultures did not accept the practice of applying perfumes or deodorants until relatively recently. Because of this, they would control body odor by bathing more than once a day.

 And then there are those who may have been cleaner for generations because of religious rites. For example, Sikhs have always believed in the importance of washing their hands well before touching an open wound, even long before doctors in other countries were washing their hands before surgery. Practicing Muslims perform ablutions before praying, and practicing Jews wash their hands before eating bread or after touching an area that is generally clothed. In some West African countries, people are required to wash their hands before raising food or drink to their lips. They also have the custom to place a bowl of leaf-infused water outside so that visitors can cleanse their hands and faces before entering the home.

Spreading Germs

 If you were looking for an easy way to spread germs between people, you’d probably opt to shake the hand of every person you’d meet. Surprisingly, that’s what happens in most business (or personal) relationships in America. In other cultures, people bow, potentially cutting down on the spread of germs. Unless you’re wearing protective gloves, shaking hands exposes your business partners to your germs, and vice-versa.

 Even when Americans know that they are sick, they sneeze into their hands – or, at best, into their elbows. In Japan, even if you only have a cold, you would wear a protective face mask to prevent the spread of germs. Which makes more sense?

 In India and other Asian countries, they actually differentiate between the roles of each hand, which may help to cut down on the spread of germs as well. Eating and touching others is done only with the right hand, whereas putting on your shoes, touching your feet, and cleansing oneself after the bathroom are all done with the left hand.

It’s All What You’re Used To

 In the end, habits are powerful things. We tend to do what our parents did, and our children tend to do what we do. Changing hygiene habits is hard, and sometimes it’s simply socially unacceptable… you try wearing a face mask in public the next time you have a cold!

 No matter what culture you’re from, healthy hand washing habits are essential for removing the germs that we inevitably come into contact with. And of course, if you’re touching other people’s food or bodies for a living, you should be wearing protective apparel to shield them and you from danger. Stay safe! 

Written by Rob Brown