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October 2019

Lost in translation: understanding personal hygiene preferences

Written by Lemay Rogers
Cleanliness and Hygiene

There’s an interesting article on Opodo Travel Moments titled “Say Hello: 11 Ways People Greet Each Other Around the World”.  In the article, Carla describes the various ways in which people from different countries greet each other. For example, in Tibet, Tibetan monks greet people by sticking out their tongues, and in Oman, men often greet by pressing their noses together. I must admit, I would be rather unnerved if someone approached me and tried to press their nose against mine without warning, but we live in a multicultural, colourful world and when visiting across the border, it’s important to research, respect, and embrace the local culture.  

From a hygiene point of view, I’m rather fond of Thailand’s ‘Wai’ greeting. For this greeting you press your hands together (like you are praying) and slightly bow your head. Considering that 80% of diseases are spread by touch, the Wai greeting reduces the risk of cross-contamination by avoiding hands altogether.

Read 4 shocking facts about hand hygiene for more insights and stats.

I sense a few strange looks after that comment, but I’m sure you’ll agree that our knowledge shapes our behaviour.  Just look at Sir Richard Branson: he prefers a fist bump to a handshake, knowing it’s more hygienic. Many CEOs have adopted this greeting, not to be less professional, but to improve their hygiene in order to avoid illness. After all, downtime for a CEO is also downtime for the company - due to a lag in decision making time.

Poind ittenorvia Tenor

Can you think of any other behaviours that might have gotten lost in translation?  

Here are a few common ones:

People that put their handbags on the chair next to them.

You might think that the person is trying to stop anyone from sitting next to them but most of the time it’s to avoid putting their handbag on the floor. 
Have a look at the journey of the handbag and I’m sure you’ll understand why.


People that use the same water glass or coffee cup throughout the day without washing it.

If you look at the science you can say that damp areas (like your glass that you just emptied or your coffee cup with the last bit of liquid remaining in it) breed germs because germs thrive in a warm, damp area.  BUT (and please take note of the big ‘but’) if you are using the same glass or cup you are not at risk of cross-contamination so the probability of getting sick is low.  I would be more worried if you used the same cup for months on end without washing it properly.

Wink Sip GIF from Wink GIFs

People that walk around the office barefoot.

I must admit that this does disturb me personally. I have faith in our daily cleaning team and have seen them clean our carpets but there is a lot of foot traffic in an office environment so keeping the carpet hygienic is a challenge. The person may then touch their foot and touch your desk… (I’m leaving that thought there.)

Setting hygiene aside, I also find this rather unprofessional. The flipside of the coin might be that the person’s shoes are really uncomfortable and they don’t have an alternative pair with them but I would advise them to walk in their shoes before attempting them in a public space.

Highfive The GIF from Highfive GIF

With everyone having their own unique quirks the most important thing to do is minimise the issues that get lost in translation by asking questions. Try and see the other person’s point of view - there is always something helpful and useful to learn. 

For more insights and helpful tips, subscribe to our blog or download our handwashing guide for some helpful tips and posters.

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Lemay Rogers

Lemay Rogers

Lémay Rogers is the Marketing Manager for Rentokil Initial's Sub-Saharan Africa region. When not contributing to the Rentokil Initial blogs, she is the custodian of all things Marketing for Rentokil Initial Sub-Saharan Africa. As a frequent traveller AND mother of a pre-schooler, she is all too aware of how easily germs can travel with us, from one location to another and then back to our homes. Follow Lémay on LinkedIn for practical pest control advice and good hygiene practices, both at home and in the workplace.

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