Thursday, May 11, 2006

Shifting Standards

As I was in the doorway-wide, stinking hellhole known optimistically as the Department Kitchen, the realisation that our hygiene standards drop several levels when we're at work suddenly struck me.

For instance, there I was, the recent proud (and grateful) owner of a sparkling new dishwasher who regularly chooses the '55C/Anti-Bac' cycle, content enough to merely swish out three days' worth of coffee residue from my cup, give it a shake dry and plonk it down on the carpet next to the kettle in the office. Charming! Think about it - would you feel comfortable with just giving your dishes at home (after being used at least 8 times over the past couple of days), a half-hearted drip dry and then put back in the cupboard? If yes, I bet your dinner guest return rate isn't too high.

Last night, after Sapphire and I went to pick up Love Chunks from his piano lesson (maybe the subject of a future blog article), we saw a woman murdering a meat pie in the bushes outside the laundromat. As is their tendency, the pie had obviously spewed its dodgy meat substitute and gravy onto her lap like an angry envelope. She had then countered this by eating it outside, leaning over a bush, dribbling brown globules all the while. The normally boring wait for LC just flew past because of my fascination with her eating style. Madame Meat Pie then bunched up the white bag that had held the pie, shoved in further into the shrubbery and wiped her meat and sauce stained hands all over her trousers. And these were the ones that she wasn't washing at the laundromat. Would she have dribbled a meat pie over her shag pile rug at home, shoved the bag into the back of the lounge cushions and wiped her hands down her trakkies? I sincerely hope not.

Work, road house and public toilets are another area that shows a staggering gulf between what one would - ahem - 'do' at home and what a lot of people seem to get a kick out of 'doing' in any convenience where there's a gap between the bottom and top of the door. You're welcome to accuse me of living a sheltered life, but I've yet to visit anyone's house and find cigarette burns on their cistern, 'Narelle is a f**king mole who roots anybody' scrawled on the wall or a river of urine flooding the floor. (One exception - my share house in the eighties after a 21st).

On the reverse side, there are situations when our expectations of cleanliness/hygiene/food are much higher than what we're willing to put up with in our homes. One classic case of this is when a cleaner is involved. I've been on both sides of this particular field of self delusion and confusion. For six months I was a live-in housekeeper for a family in London, and was repeatedly told by the lady of the house that the toilets (all four of them) and bathrooms (3) were to be cleaned every single day. Now you can't tell me that if she had to do it she'd be prepared to clean them every twenty four hours. Nah it'd be the complete opposite - the wet areas would probably only get a quick squirt of bleach when the mushrooms threatened to block out the shower drain.

For three god-awful weeks I was a nanny in Hampstead, London. Again, the mother had a few standards that she insisted on reminding me about: the children's bed sheets and pyjamas were to be washed - and ironed - every single day. The beds were to be moved every second day so that I could vaccuum underneath, and the curtains were to be done twice weekly. Their bathroom was to be scrubbed every second day and all toys were either to be wiped down with disinfectant or put through a hot wash every week. Looking back, it's a wonder I lasted as long as three weeks, especially when Mrs Haughty House had a masseur arrive twice a week to give her an all-over massage!

This unreasonable attitude towards 'the help' isn't just restricted to British billionaires. Common folk such as myself have been heard to moan, "Oh my cleaning lady's absolutely crap. She doesn't clean the oven, wash the outside windows, dust the skirting boards or wipe every doorknob...." Oh, and you do, every single week?

But wait, there's more. Haven't we all gone on holiday, more eager to see what the room in our resort's like first rather than rush outside to check out the local scenery? It is with disappointed sighs when we enter the smallish sized bathroom and find that there's no mega-whirl spa-bath, massaging dual shower jets or Chanel No5 bathroom products. We seldom try to remind ourselves that our own bathrooms are likely to have a soggy, hairy soap splatted wetly in the holder, silicone waterproof shower sealant now black with mould and more pubes than a Brazilian waxer's bin scattered all over the tiles.

And finally, the meal out. Paying cash for our victuals seems to give us the expectation that we deserve a meal of Le Grande Bouffe proportions. This can be somewhat of a challenge in a busy Italian coffee and cake bar. How many people these days will say something like, "Oh, this coffee isn't as good as La blah blah down the road...." How come in the last couple of years we've all become coffee gourmands? Most of us wouldn't know if the worker (OK, sorry, 'Barrista') spat in it before he put the froth on. I'd be prepared to assume that pretty well none of us could be bothered to roast and chop five cups of hazelnuts for the flourless orange cake that we're currently turning our noses at.

To be fair though, I'd never expect anyone to ask for something we'd eat in the privacy of our own home, such as: "Could I please have a week old, cold slize of Hawaiian pizza - hang on - can you bring out that piece of mud cake first - just nuke it for ten seconds in the microwave. What, you dropped it on the floor? Don't worry - if it aint been on the ground for three seconds or more, it aint infected, I always say. Can I eat a packet of cheese twisties while I'm waiting? Can you bring that bottle of diet coke over - no don't worry about a glass I'll swig it straight."

My point here is so small it might as well be one of Shane Warne's brain cells, but it's this: standards aren't standard. They can't be standard if they change. And if you don't think your standards vary depending on the situation, then ask yourself this: Would you be prepared to let rip a ripe old fart during a job interview? Drop your sauce-covered pastie on the floor but eat it anyway? I didn't think so.

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