Germophobia vs Politeness - Which Prevails?

Fellow germaphobic Dopers, have you ever been in a situation when your aversion to dirt butted head with your good manners?

So I’m at my sister-in-law’s house for lunch. SIL isn’t the best housekeeper in the world. Most of the time I can force myself to overlook this as she’s otherwise a good egg.

Just before lunch, she’s out in the veg garden digging up carrots for our meal. I offer to set the table. I take plates out of the cupboard and put them on the table, then notice that two of them are dirty. I pick them up and am heading to the sink when SIL appears at the kitchen door. “Whatcha doing?” she asks. I say I’m going to wash the plates. I try to say this in a light, matter-of-fact tone of voice so she doesn’t think I’m criticizing her housekeeping.

She takes the plates from my hands, scrutinizes them, then rubs her soil-encrusted hands all over their surfaces, scratches off some crustiness with her thumbnail and says, “There! Now they’re clean. No need to wash. They can go back on the table.”

It’s her house so she’s the boss of domestic arrangements. Trying to hide how squicked out I am, I reluctantly put the plates back on the table. She makes and serves lunch a few minutes later without washing her hands. I cannot bring myself to eat off those plates or ingest food prepared by those hands. I simply cannot. I make up an excuse about a headache and leave without lunch.

Not polite, I know. I was rude to leave without eating when I’d been invited to lunch and I felt bad about it, but my germaphobia won out over my desire to be polite. FWIW, this isn’t a tale of me acting patronizingly towards some poor schlub who doesn’t know any better. SIL is a professional with graduate degrees and comes from a respected family who maintained high standards. Her late mother would have been as repulsed as I was.

Do you have story about your revulsion to contamination conflicting with your wish to do the gracious thing? Which won out, your manners or your persnicketiness?

No personal story that I can think of but…

Dirty plates + not washing her hands before serving lunch vs a white lie? I’d have done exactly the same.

I’m not a great housekeeper either, but I certainly wouldn’t serve anyone with a crusty dish that hadn’t been re-washed. If nothing else, get a fresh dish out of the cupboard!

I’m also a hand-washing fiend. Luckily, my family is as well.

It wasn’t so much germaphobia but our reluctance to get food poisoning that lead us to avoid all food being served at my best friend’s party a couple of years ago. You see, we dropped in on him the day before just to say hello after arriving in town. He proudly showed us the large pots of chicken and lamb stews he was planning on serving the guests, buffet style. Until then, he said, they’d just remain on the stove too cool and be reheated the NEXT DAY. The party was great and we were fine with just the wine and the company.

? I do that all the time…all the time, never had food poisoning. As long as the initial prep is scrupulously clean and it is properly re-heated it shouldn’t be a problem.

I’m sure you’re right and I have no problem keeping something in a crock pot simmering on very low for 12 to 24 hours, until it’s ready to serve. It’s the cool to room temp and reheat next day that I have a problem with. So do the food service industry health inspectors - not that I’m one. I was just addressing the OP regarding having an (over)abundance of caution about certain things.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danger_zone_(food_safety)
Yes, it should be a problem. Your initial prep was probably not enough to kill off pathogens, and your lack of illness this far is irrelevant.

Since this asks for opinions, I’m moving it to IMHO, from MPSIMS.

I’d have either just pretended I thought she was joking and gone ahead and washed them anyway, or pretended that I knew my “germaphobia” was near-pathological, but wouldn’t she please just humor me anyway. Of course this doesn’t solve the problem of what has probably happened to the food in the kitchen!

Hmmm, seeing as that cite says

I’m screwed and always have been. Every packed lunch I eat is in that zone for longer than 2 hours. It seems wildly paranoid.

Reheating a stew, soup or similar to over 90C for 10 minutes will kill any pathogens, no problem. If there are any toxins still in there you may have trouble but that comes down to poor prep in the first place or leaving it out unrefrigerated for much too long. Overnight with proper reheating? nah, not a problem. My kids and I have iron constitutions so you may be right regarding our lack of illness being irrelevant, however my missus barfs at the drop of a hat and I’ve not poisoned her yet either.

My sister-in-law’s mother has a truly filthy house. The dogs lick everything and shed everywhere, the cats are allowed to roam all over the plates and the counters, she is untidy so there is always food everywhere and the floors are sticky. Some people have dogs and cats and still maintain their houses pretty clean. Not this woman.

The last time I was there I dealt with this by a) offering to make the salad, so I knew everything had been washed thoroughly, and b) mostly eating the foods that our communal mother-in-law had made (we had gone to her house with mom-in-law).

She’s a terrible cook, too.

I would be ashamed if someone came to my house and found crusty stains on the plates.

I think I’d have tried to eat something so as not to hurt her feelings.

I’m not a germaphobe, but I do have a horror of food coloring. Once a friend who didn’t know this made me cupcakes for my birthday, and she must have used bottles of the stuff. These were the most garish unnatural things you ever saw. I pretended I was “saving them for later”, but I’d have tried to choke one down if I had to.

ooooooo! even though I leave food out overnight and the odd spot doesn’t bother me, I must confess that having dogs or cats in the house turns my stomach somewhat. I have no idea if it makes any difference to the safety of the food but…urgh.

AnaMen, that’s a clever and diplomatic solution. If only it would work! Unfortunately, I’ve tried treating this sort of thing as a joke before and it didn’t help. Once when I was staying over at her house, she got down to breakfast before I did and was just finishing eating toast as I walked into the kitchen. We said our good mornings and I reached for a (hopefully) clean plate from the cupboard so I could have some breakfast. SIL law said, “Oh, you don’t need that - just use this one” and she passed me over her used butter-and-jam-smeared plate and knife. Yes, she intended me to use her dirty dish and knife. I pretended to laugh and said, “SIL, you’re really funny!” But she continued to proffer the used plate. I took it and quietly put in the dishwasher.

Cats are the worst, quite frankly. I don’t care what you say, if you have cats in the house, they are walking all over your counters when you are not around. And cat hair in everything.

Food out overnight attracts bugs, so I don’t do that. The odd spot doesn’t bother me, but when I have guests, my house is spotless.

…with paws that they use to bury their toxic poop with…:smiley:

Your SIL obviously knows you think she is a slob, and she is resisting your less-than-subtle responses to what she clearly considers to be No Big Deal and the judgments you are imposing on her. Neither of you is right or wrong. It’s a personal judgment call. But the dynamic between you is driven by this tension, I think, far more than by which way of living is “right.” I think what you need to understand is, there is a power struggle going on here based on what she likely perceives is you trying to impose your standards in her home.

She may also be one (like me) who considers that the whole germaphobia thing has gone way too far and is resisting you imposing it in her environment.

You feel as you feel, and nothing she says is going to change that. As a guest in her home, the hope is that she would respect your needs, even if she considers them peculiar and/or unreasonable.

I think you should explain to her in a self-deprecating way that you are a bit of a germaphobe, and would she mind indulging this particular idiosyncrasy of yours? Hopefully the answer is yes. This removes the ‘judgment’ aspect of your behavior and allows her to be generous in tolerating your whimsies. It also gets the issue right out in the open and allows the two of you to address the problem in a forthright manner. She gets to save face, and you get to eat off clean plates.

So long as you refrain from whipping out the anti-bacterial wipes and scouring down the table and your chair before you eat, I suspect she will be receptive to your needs.

Best of luck.