Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blame or thank my mother.

While massaging my scalp, Ashley a reader of my blog and the shampoo girl at my hair salon, politely asked me how this all began. This being the Hygiene Hunter. Hygiene Hunter the person, not Hygiene Hunter the blog.

I was born wearing rubber gloves. My mother cried. My father was more practical about it saying to my mother, "Look on the bright side, she can change her own diapers." My parents embraced my difference. In fact, they nurtured it. Just a few months ago my mother said, "You've taken this clean thing too far." To which I replied, "Mother dearest, if you hadn't snorted Ajax during your pregnancy I wouldn't be who I am today." Kiss. Kiss. Adolescence wasn't easy, but when I saw an old man on a bus licking his finger and then wiping it on the handrail in front of him over and over and over and over and over again I knew my rubber-gloved hands weren't a curse, but rather a gift. A gift meant to be shared. People ask me why I wear black gloves. Now you know.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You have to be crafty.

Last week was a three-city tour of duty for me. On my second trip of the week, I was inspired by an airport shop's "totally degradable" plastic bags. While I waited to board the airplane, I read the bag which kindly asked you reuse it and offered the following suggestions: perfect for your wet bathing suit; ideal laundry bag; holds 2 diapers; efficient shower cap; holds one muddy shoe. These thought starters led me to -- Instant Slippers.

On my third trip, I decided to test Instant Slippers. On any flight over 45 minutes I take off my shoes for comfort, but never touch the aircraft floor unprotected. Socks don't count (read my "Not just me." post). I would normally wear disposable slippers courtesy of hotels I've stayed in. Instant Slippers aren't ideal for long-haul flights because your feet won't breathe well.

Here's your how to guide. When you make a purchase, ask for an extra bag. Most clerks are nice people so you shouldn't have any trouble securing an extra bag. Unless, of course, too many people start asking for extra bags in which case you may have to make an extra purchase that warrants two bags.

When you've settled into your seat, take off your shoes, keep your socks on, slip your feet into the bags and enjoy the flight. Whatever you do, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WALK in your Instant Slippers. If you get any strange looks while wearing this creation, tell your seatmate where to go --  

Monday, September 28, 2009

Only a matter of minutes.

Taxi Driver 125 was doing so well -- despite asking me if the address I gave him was in Vancouver, British Columbia. I replied, "Actually, it's in Singapore, but I prefer taking the long, scenic route." If I had a choice between a directionally-challenged driver or a hygienically-challenged one, there would be no choice. Unfortunately, with the exception of London, England most drivers will start exploring their eyes, nose and/or mouth within minutes of your trip. Is this their way of getting back at people who vomit on their personal property or desecrate it with butt crack? 

Cavity exploration wouldn't be an issue for me if we didn't have to exchange money or a credit card. I rarely carry cash with me because it's one of the most germ-laden things about (look for a future post on how to handle money).

Taxi cleanliness, again, with the exception of London, is sketchy to begin with. Make your next trip more, or less, enjoyable by playing this game. Start your imaginary taxi driver meter with 10 points. Think of them as merits/demerits. Deduct points for unacceptable dirt, stains or smells and then every time the driver goes eye, nose or mouth diving. 

Back to Driver 125. He started off so well. He opened the door for me at the airport which saved a tissue (look for an upcoming post on how to get through life without touching a doorknob). His taxi was clean. The seat belts were in working order.  Despite the sniffles, 125 resisted wiping his nose with his hand for a significant amount of time. Approximately 14 minutes. Since he opened the door for me, I didn't deduct a point for his sniffles. He even found his sense of direction. His 10 points were intact. And then. And then. And then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Minus one. That was followed by the Nose Scratch. Down to eight. Which was followed by the Nose Wipe. Seven. A cough. Six. Not into his sleeve. Five.

We arrived at my destination. I handed him my credit card. He processed it and passed it back to me along with a pen. I declined the pen (always carry your own; post to come) and picked up the card with a tissue. I put my credit card directly into an envelope to await cleaning (future post). 125 earned a point back by opening the door for me. For a non-London driver, a Six is a respectable score. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

This week so far.

Four plane trips and three restaurants later, it's obvious to me not everyone got the memo.  I, along with medical professionals, would prefer you sneeze into your shirtsleeve or a tissue -- not into common breathing space. I, along with Mr. Clean, would prefer you wipe the soy sauce off your restaurant wall, pick the crumbs out of your chair cushion cracks and check the orange juice for floaty things before serving. I, along with anti-mucites, would prefer you not wipe your nose or my nose with any part of your hand while preparing our chai lattes. On a positive note, hand sanitizing dispensers are being strategically positioned in places that care. Hand sanitizer is a great alternative when soap and water isn't available. Not so practical if you need to take a bath.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The flu is circling.

They're selling H1N1 branded hand sanitizer at Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Travelers are taking the time to read H1N1 posters. Bulletins for H1N1 prevention are being issued across the globe. Still, I return from Paris only to be greeted by phlegmy co-workers. This week, my Hygiene Hunter practices and immune system are being tested. In addition to my overseas flight, my schedule includes three there-and-back airplane day trips and mingling with the great unwashed -- unless of course they read the memo. There is no room for a slip-up. I believe if you eat well, snort saline and avoid contact with common touch points you can avoid the flu. Some have resorted to masks. I'm still holding out for a Louis Vuitton runway version in fine black lace. There's a standing order in my office that no one uses my pen, my phone or my computer. They are even prohibited from breathing my air. These are my nearest and dearest, so they comply. But they've still to practice what I preach. If they did, they wouldn't be achy and sneezy and I wouldn't be put to the test. Admittedly, I freely use them as sacrificial door openers so I can walk through life uncontaminated.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There's a little swine in everyone.

This little piggy went to market. This little piggy went home. This little piggy is being blamed for Swine Flu. And now everyone is paranoid. Welcome to my world. The biggest, breakthrough advice medical experts are giving is, "Wash your hands." And may I add, once you have, don't pick the sleep out of your eye.

Traveling on airplanes is always of some concern. Close proximity. Recycled air. Sweat pants. When people sneeze, they don't always sneeze into a tissue or shirtsleeve -- preferably your own shirt. Sometimes they'll sneeze right into the newspaper the flight attendant has handed them. A newspaper that could eventually find its way to you. Right Mr.-Businessman-Seated-In-1A? In addition to cleaning armrests, seatbelts and the TV screen with hand sanitizer and saying no to public reading material, I use Saline Mist by Otrivin to help ward off any circulating nasties. And when I'm feeling particularly at risk, I wear my string of garlic.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not just me.

Every once in a while, I think, maybe, just maybe, I've taken this hygiene thing a bit too far. Perhaps I should live and let live. So in this instance, I asked my podiatrist, Dr. Tobinski, his opinion. You can guess mine. "What do you think of going barefoot in an airplane?" His reply was, "No. Never. You don't know what's on the ground. There could be puke." Kindred spirits. Although, you should never trust me to remove a bunion from your foot. You have to love a doctor who uses the word puke as opposed to emesis. Dr. T added that you could pick up a wart, a fungus or even a bacterial infection. He does believe you should take your shoes off for comfort. In his opinion, socks are just fine. This is what separates the Hygiene Hunter from the podiatrist. The Hygiene Hunter would never contaminate her shoe afterwards. That's why I bring disposable slippers with me. To test his conviction, I asked the million dollar question, "For $1 million would you walk barefoot on the washroom floor in an aircraft?" His answer was a firm no. I believe him. Can you guess my answer?

Monday, September 21, 2009

It was meant to be.

They say Paris is the perfect city to wander about aimlessly because you'll likely find something wonderful all on your own. They are right. As I dawdled through the streets on my last day here, I turned a corner and there it was. My Mona Lisa. My Rodin. My Eiffel Tower. My Office Public D'Hygiene. No queues. No museum pass required. I stood on this quiet Le Marais street for a long time appreciating the significance of those words. Passersby wondered what I was looking at. One day, they too will worship. It appears the office is no longer in this location, but I know their work continues. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

Garbage bags everywhere.

Some people admire the River Seine. Others are riveted by trash receptacles. Admittedly, those others would be moi. You don't have to walk far in Paris to encounter a gloriously green garbage bag. That means you have no excuse to litter. The bags are changed frequently which means no overflow. The design also makes for easy collection. Paris gets my vote for best litter control and successful distraction from historical sights. And almost successful distraction from designer boutiques. Hit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Proof they dust nooks and crannies.

Dearest George V Housekeeper:

Thank you for your meticulous cleaning of my room. Your attention to detail has made my stay at the George V in Paris even more special. It is as if you know I am the Hygiene Hunter:) As soon as I walked into my room the other day, I knew you took the time to dust my thermostat. Thirty-five degrees celsius was very generous of you. My chocolate truffles were excellent as a fondue:)


Hygiene Hunter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Hygiene Hunter rides.

People often think that because I'm the Hygiene Hunter I'm not free to enjoy life. Pity not. Yes, I think about hygiene all of the time. To me though, it's like breathing. With the right protection -- which I always carry with me -- I can go anywhere and do anything. Even rent a bicycle at the Chateau de Versailles in France. A bike thousands have ridden. I wipe down the handle bars, brakes, bell and seat with sanitizer and tissue. Gloves are my security blanket. Germs can live on a surface from 24 hours to 72 hours, but not when I'm around. Die creepers! Die!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Had me at utensils in a basket.

I was told the Breizh Café in Paris makes the most amazing crêpes using only the freshest ingredients. So off I went to the Le Marais area to indulge in this national dish. I have to commend Breizh Café for not placing the knives and forks directly onto the table -- an icky-pooh practice. Yes, some restaurants wipe down tables between customers, but not all do. And not all places spritz with a disinfectant or use a clean rag. I admired the utensil basket until my 100% organic buckwheat crêpe stole the show. The toilette, however, was not to be outdone by a crêpe. In the cubicle, a Hygiene Hunter's delight! A disinfectant-wipe dispenser on the wall! I would have knelt before it but a floor is never to be trusted. It's no wonder Breizh Café is also big in Tokyo. Hit.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Voluntary confinement.

After one too many glasses of champagne in Paris, I laughed in the face of a germ. Yes, after one too many glasses of champagne, germs have faces without the aid of a microscope. Then I had no choice but to check myself into a rehabilitation facility. Guess what? They serve champagne! I love the French. Until tomorrow. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

Surprise inspection.

The sign said please come back later. I said I live for moments like this. Walking in on a room cleaning is thrilling. This is where you have the opportunity to see how the housekeeper works. In Las Vegas, I encountered an unappetizing housekeeping practice. My new hotel toiletries were sitting in the washroom garbage can. The same can that is usually not lined in plastic (although I insist on plastic bags for all of my garbage cans in all hotels I stay in)! In this situation, I advised the housekeeping director. At the George V Paris, I was pleased to see the pillows and duvet sitting on the furniture, not the floor, as they awaited changing. Hygiene faux pas averted. Hit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm at a loss for words.

I don't know what to say about this grass ceiling in the washroom at Merci in Paris, but give me time and I will come up with something.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You can sit next to me any time.

It's not often all the planets in the universe align, but on this day, again, at Ma Bourgogne, I was almost brought to tears. Tears of joy. The three ladies from Spain sharing our table began their meal not with a prayer, but a bottle of hand sani. Bless them. Hit.

Kippers and sinks.

"Do you know how this thing works?" asks the American girl. Of course I do, I'm the Hygiene Hunter. Voilà! I show her how to turn on the sink. With my knee. "You just have to remember not to lick your knee," I tell her. In addition to this exquisite feature at Ma Bourgogne, place des Vosges, I very much enjoyed the kipper and potato salad dish. Potato salad with no mayonnaise. Leaving room for more champagne. Hit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A menu you don't have to touch.

With a menu that changes daily according to freshly available produce, lovely Paris neighborhood bistro Oscar, out of practicality, doesn't have a printed menu. Their specials of the day are hand written on large chalkboards. The best part? The waiters bring the menu around to your table and set it on a chair so you can easily read it. You never have to touch it -- unlike regular menus who very likely have been perused by someone along the patron chain who didn't do what their mommy taught them to do before eating. If only all restaurants did this I could fire my menu handler. Hit.

A present for moi?

After my previous hotel disappointment (read my "Au Revoir." post) I settled on the Hotel George V in Paris. Although you don't exactly settle when you check into a Four Seasons. The room passed inspection and even surprised me with an unexpected benefit. At turn down service the housekeeper put the bed spread into a large bag so it wouldn't come into contact with the floor. Not even after a few too many glasses of champagne would I sleep on the floor and I'm grateful my bed spread doesn't have to sleep there either. Hit.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I even approve of the dog.

Colette is so much more than the latest in all things current, beautiful and expensive. They are a Hygiene Hunter's dream as they swoop to pick up discarded tissues dropped on the ground and immediately wipe away fingerprints off glass cases. For the obsessive compulsive in me, they also straighten items that have been misaligned. Even Colette's Water Bar CDO (Chief Dog Officer) Oscar keeps his tongue in his mouth as he mingles with patrons. Oscar, by the way, is also my first dog sighting in Paris. On another note, the Water Bar carries 75 varieties of the clear stuff. Hit.

Delicious. Until I had to wash my hands.

There's not much that can turn me off from chocolate, but this came close. The dark chocolate macaroon was delicious. Okay, who am I kidding. Make that plural. Macaroons. Before leaving the shop I required the use of the ladies' room. When I went to wash my hands I noticed a bar of soap in place of liquid hand soap. That was enough to turn my stomach. My mind whirled like a good Hygiene Hunter's should. How old was the bar? What devilish treats were lurking on it? How many people choose not to wash their hands because it was a bar? Do staff have separate hand washing facilities? Please, Patron Saint of Chocolate, let that be so. And, is this not grounds for French Revolution Part Deux? On a personal note, I managed to leave the facility without being a germ carrier because I always carry antiseptic wipes with me. The wipes also performed double duty with the door knob. Miss.

Not as abundant as rumored.

Contrary to popular belief, chien merde is not flowing in the streets. Neither is champagne flowing from the taps. That would be pure hope on my part. It took 31 hours in the City of Light before I encountered my first bonbon. Impressive. Even then it was refined. Just like Parisians. And much daintier than an American canine's. Perhaps the diet? The gift was tucked in by a wall just outside a hair salon. Perhaps Fifi was going in for a blowout. Hit.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Au Revoir.

My first day in Paris wasn't spent waiting in line to throw a teacup at the Mona Lisa, but rather touring hotels to find a replacement for my pre-booked hotel. Sadly, the mattress inspection failed  and the hotel's efforts to replace the mattress were futile.

Some people believe in the Law of Attraction. I believe in the Law of Steve (read my "Six Hurricanes and a mattress." post). People do things in hotel rooms that they wouldn't normally do at home. I've seen plenty of evidence. The mattress stain in a hotel is more common than you think. Most people just don't realize they're sleeping on stains because they don't think to check underneath the sheets and mattress cover. I don't know about you, but I'm not paying a hotel to sleep on someone else's history. Miss.

Quest que c'est?

Très bien.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Anxiety yes. Nausea yes.

Every time I am scheduled to check into a hotel I've never stayed at before (regardless of how many stars it has), the above happens. Now imagine the hotel staffs' collective blood pressure if they knew who I am. I leave for Paris today. Say a prayer for me. Say a prayer for my hotel.

Friday, September 4, 2009

If you have to kill someone.

Not only does James know how to kill, he knows where to kill. On a non-porous surface. If only people applied this rule-of-decency to the hotel mattress, I would have less to do when I check into a hotel room. And it's all about me.

With permission from Fox Studios. Quantum of Solace on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My first cockroach.

The most accurate way to describe my encounter is "Civilized, yet disturbing." Civilized because I was in one of my favorite, exclusive stores in New York. Disturbing because I was in one of my favorite, exclusive stores in New York. I had just tried on a tempting Yves Saint Laurent dress when I decided it would be best not to tempt a Urinary Tract Infection. So I excused myself and went to the restroom. That's where I met C Roach.

My brown eyes locked with C Roach's large compound eyes. As C Roach dared me to pull down my Gold & Sign denim a list of very important questions came to mind: How many of them were there? Would they ambush me when I was in an exposed state? Was Lieutenant Ellen Ripley silently crouching on a toilet just waiting to rescue me? I tried to convince C Roach to come with me to the fitting room and slip into the pocket of a Chanel jacket. I would scream. My personal shopper would be mortified, and, like in any great restaurant he would fall all over himself apologizing and insist the soup is on the house. C Roach just kept clicking his claws. Clearly C is on commission.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Six hurricanes and a mattress.

Meet Steve. He's six-feet-something tall. Married. Has a job. Waters his lawn. So what does Steve do when the one-too-many Hurricanes he's had to drink in New Orleans pay him a visit in his hotel bed? (No, after he vomits.) Being the nice guy Steve is, he flips the mattress. Flips The Mattress! With The Help Of His Wife! Steve thought he was being helpful. Yes, Steve was embarrassed, but what he should have done was call housekeeping and blame it on his wife. Steve is why I check both sides of a mattress in a hotel before I accept a room.

David Crouch, Director of Housekeeping, Four Seasons Maui at Wailea, gives this advice. "Accidents happen. Call us so we can take care of it immediately. The sooner we know about it the better." Oh, David you're so polite.

Not a germaphobe.

Okay, so you may be thinking Hygiene Hunter is a blog for extremists. For people who would never pick up a sliced tomato off the floor and eat it. For people who would never run their tongue along a subway handrail. For people who would rather have their picture taken with a New York Sanitation truck than say Javier Bardem. Admittedly, I haven't touched a doorknob, elevator button or grocery cart without protection in 20 years, but sadly that doesn't make me a long lost relative of Howard Hughes. It does make me practical. Since I started avoiding contact with public touch points I have avoided the sniffles, the runs, the clap. Knock on wood. Five times.

I Googled germaphobe. Urban Dictionary offers this up: "Any person who is obsessed with cleanliness and defeating bacteria. These individuals will turn on faucets with their elbows and hand sanitize on an hourly basis." According to their definition I am not a germaphobe. I am more. Much more. Obsessed? Check. Sanitize on an hourly basis? Amateurs. I wash my hands anytime anyone even looks at them.

Bad lady.

What do you do when the person sitting next to you on an airplane threatens to cough in your face? Cough in her face first? Scream "Terrorist attack!"? Run like hell!? To the other end of the plane? I opted to start a blog.

The backstory. I was settling into my seat wiping down the armrests to the left and right of me with hand sani. I fly a lot so I see how individuals of all ages mistreat public surfaces. From the way the woman seated next to me was staring, you would think I was performing a satanic ritual. Okay, so I may have been cellophaned from head to toe, but that doesn't give her an excuse, does it? I didn't react to her bug eyes or when she upped her efforts by not covering her mouth when she coughed. She wanted a confrontation, but I wasn't biting because I know that's a really good way to catch something. She sunk lower by loudly declaring to her seatmate, “I should cough in her face!” Had I caught her name I would have sent her a greeting card.