Hand wringing in the office

NYT’s Freakonomics blog had an interesting article today about a woman who lost her diamond ring while washing her hands in the restroom of an upscale restaurant in New York. The woman went back after 10 minutes, but the ring was gone. The article wonders whether, if she had lost her ring at a McDonalds restroom instead, she would have been more successful in recovering it.

What I found more interesting was that someone had used the restroom during the next 10 minutes, and washed their hands. Perhaps that is not so surprising because this was a ladies’ room. As this study shows and every woman suspects, way more women wash their hands than men. Imagine, for a moment, that it was a guy who had lost his ring in a men’s room. I wonder what the chances are, that the ring would still be sitting on the basin, glinting away. I imagine men, when they do approach the wash basin at all, glance at themselves in the mirror, smooth their hair, adjust their tie and make a quick exit, all the while sneering at the few wimps nearby who were actually washing their hands.

When the study on hand-washing first came out, I panicked completely. I thought back to the number of hands I had shaken just that day. Most of those hands had belonged to men. I wondered how many of those men had washed their hands. And what about my boss? Does he wash his hands? I looked down at the report he had just handed me. It looked innocent enough, but was it actually teeming with E. coli?  What else did it contain? For heaven’s sake, it was sitting on my desk, where I eat my lunch everyday! I stared at the report in quiet despair.

I did not know then, but there were worse shocks in store for me. One morning, as I was headed to the copier, I passed my boss in the hallway. I noticed he was holding a report that I had just given him. That was good, but what he did next made me stop in my tracks. As I was turning the corner, I looked back and saw my boss open the door to the men’s room and walk in. 

I phoned R, my husband urgently. “You know R, the report I was working on ? For the conference tomorrow? Well, I just gave it to my boss, and he has taken it with him to the men’s room !”

“Makes sense”, said R. “Best place to concentrate”.

I paused. Who was I talking to? This was the guy who reads the latest Businessweek and the Sunday papers in the bathroom. What other reaction did I expect from him anyway?

I was not going to give up so easily, though. I was going to rebel. “Well”, I said, speaking forcefully, “if he hands me back that report, I will not touch it !”

“Don’t worry”, R said, “of course he will not do that”.

I was not so sure, and I spent the rest of the day thinking of what I would say if my boss handed me the report. I had come up with some excellent lines over the next few days, but sadly, I never got that report back.

Now I have joined the ranks of those obsessive-compulsive hand cleaners. I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer every where I go, and wash my hands in the ladies’ room every 10 minutes.

 What else can I do, when I am surrounded by men?


11 thoughts on “Hand wringing in the office

  1. Lol….I know one more person who washes her hand every ten minutes. I never asked the reason for that because I found it strange that while cooking dinner in her own “purified” kitchen, she had washed her hands atleast ten times in the span of an hour!
    What you say here makes me worry too though! I am in despair even when I think of the long walk to the ladies room from my seat at office, every ten minutes!! I would probably end up being a loo-passage hanger-outer 🙂

  2. Now that you mention it, I realize I do the automatic hand-washing every few minutes in the kitchen too.. I always thought that was because my hands felt sticky – with dough, or ground chutney, or salt. But you may have a point. Maybe it goes deeper, this urge to wash hands..

  3. Wasn’t there a recent study that said the Bathroom’s were cleaner than an office desk and even a Kitchen? So why worry about paper being taken to the mens room, it is cleaner than on the one on the office desk 🙂

  4. Oh, that was so funny!
    Something not-so-funny: NEVER eat the peanuts and other small eats at a bar. Think about it. Enough said.
    Great site, lot’s of interesting stuff to read.

  5. Loved this piece! Being married to a person who sometimes forgets to flush the toilet, and who often flushes the toilet after washing his hands……I guess you get my drift, ie. I have metamorphosed into a compulsive ‘go and wash your hands again’ nagger. Am I glad I don’t work in his office:)

  6. @Kamini: Interesting thought, had never thought of that before. Now I know why they say ignorance is bliss.

    @Avataram: That’s exactly what I was worried about ! Good pun, btw.

    @Dipali: I agree, I also do the nagging (more like interrogation) sometimes – you can never be too sure 🙂

    @RRR: I know there was a study on that, but I’d like to believe it was not my desk they were talking about 😦

  7. well its nice to see somebody talk about this…I get so worked up seeing my male colleagues dipping in to eat my lunch without washing…for that matter I haven’t seen any of them wash their hands before eating!…I do have weird set of colleagues I am sure!

  8. nice post :). one of my ex-colleagues(male) had an awful habit of putting the pencil into his ears while we would be discussing design. Of course i would donate those to him very eagerly after the discussion. Something like “hey, I think this is “your” pencil.
    And in the same office, another colleague of mine(female), who was a cleanliness freak, used to abhor this guy. She would wipe all the things he had touched with a sanitizer. Very useful to have around. 🙂
    And I share the same trepidation before a handshake with men.

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