My mother was the drill sergeant of manners. I never had a meal without a napkin on my lap. I never put my elbows on the table. I never chewed with my mouth open (“You’re chewing like a cow!”). I never said “Yeah”, “Huh?”, or “What?” I always said “Pardon me,” “Yes”, or “Excuse me.” I never left the dinner table without asking for permission. Slouching resulted in a swift THWACK between the shoulder blades (“You’re going to be round-shouldered!”). If I squinted – even the slightest – my mother would thump my forehead with the tip of her fingers (“You don’t want to get wrinkles!). Many times I was caught in a mom-slap sandwich getting hit between the eyes with one hand while being slapped on the back with the other. Breaking these rules resulted in swift correction and a disapproving look but not much more.
Licking my fingers was an infraction of a much higher level. When caught (and I always seemed to get caught) my mother’s face became a mix of emotions including horror, disgust, a little rage, and a hint of “Where have I failed as a mother?” Eyes wild and wide my mother would lunge at me slapping my hand away from my face screaming: “No! Use your napkin.” I never understood why it was such a big deal.
I do now.
While thankful for my good manners, decent posture, and only fine lines on my forehead, I can’t stand it when people lick their fingers. I’m not talking about licking their fingers and keeping them to themselves. I’m talking about people who lick their fingers and then hand me something like money, a lipstick-smudged document, or the plastic bags holding my groceries.
A few weeks ago I was waiting in line for coffee. The young barista was diligently scrubbing something in the sink. Before taking my order she wiped her hands on a filthy apron as she asked me what I’d like. Then she keyed my order into the cash register, licked her fingers to pull my change out of the drawer, held my coffee cup with one hand while she poured coffee with the other, and used both hands to secure the lid on top. She might as well have licked my cup, lid, and hand.
People make fun of me because I use a napkin to take off the lid and cover the creamer handle while pouring. I also use a straw – even for hot coffee – so my mouth doesn’t touch the tainted surface. The straw fits neatly in the small oval hole on the top of the lid. I grab an extra cup on my way out and place the other one inside. When people stare at me disapprovingly as I go through my coffee routine I casually say: “I’ve been sick and I don’t want to give everyone my germs.” This comment is met with a pleasing nod as they assume I am sparing them exposure to my pestilence.
I feel the same way about people who lick their fingers to sift through paper. One of my colleagues licks her fingers every time she hands out documents. I cringe when I’m in a meeting and she volunteers to pass out the agenda. She licks her finger to separate each page before plopping it in front of the attendees. As people scan the topics, making comments on one thing or another, all I see is the small wet spot drying into a light pink smudge that is the color of her lipstick. Wet or dry – that pink smudge still has germs.
Let’s not forget the helpful cashier who licks her fingers to separate the plastic bags before filling them with your purchases. I don’t want anyone’s DNA, cold, flu, herpes, or Ebola camping out on my agenda, coffee, or plastic bags. Please stop.