The European high standard of hygiene is relative

A men's toilet at a commercial building in Taipei was rated first class by the city government in 2017.

When I started offering my home-made food at a traditional market near where I live in May, my neighbor to the left was selling freshly slaughtered chicken, which he cut on the ground.

It was irritating to see how from time to time drops of blood and small pieces of fat landed on the recently purchased table cloth which presented my culinary art.

The family operating the business either didn’t care at all or just pretended it wasn’t happening, even when I gave them a disapproving look. Over time we actually became almost friends.

Considering how close the multiple stands are jammed together, such an annoyance isn’t really surprising. That doesn’t make it less unpleasant, though.

Another strange pattern that I observe every time I’m selling at the market is that customers touch raw poultry products, including liver, with their bare hands.

Even if you can «clean» your hands in a bucket of water provided by the owner, why would you want to do that, especially in this climate? Such behavior wouldn’t be just unthinkable in Europe, it would simply be illegal.

At the same time, almost everybody shopping at this venue is wearing a mask. I still do it myself when I’m dealing with a customer out of courtesy.

Nobody seems to question if this still makes sense.

Just last week I was yelled at by an older lady that I should do so while chatting with her son, who had pulled this «mouth rag» down to his Adam’s apple.

The older couple selling bamboo shoots five meters away, while always trying to protect itself from the omnipresent virus, at the same time uses two old Styrofoam boxes that you wouldn’t want to touch with a barge pole.

Even when I told the various workmen that showed up over the last year that they don’t have to put off their shoes to enter my flat, they did so automatically – it’s like a reflex.

In stark contrast, the insight gained in two decades tells me that at least some of the workshops they operate are dirty, untidy and chaotic. For them, that’s apparently no contradiction.

On the other hand, public toilets are much cleaner than in Spain. Those in small eateries might be tiny and jammed with supplies, though usually appear spotless.

Not to speak of those inside the Taipei metro system, which can only be described as immaculate. In 20 years, I only encountered two litterbugs which didn’t flush after use and the cleaning lady hadn’t been fast enough.

For East Asian tourists visiting the Iberian Peninsula or Germany, using a bathroom outside their accommodation can be a traumatic experience for three reasons.

First, the sad state it’s usually in. Second, the fact that often they have to pay for it, sometimes a ridiculous price for such a service. Third, because even then it might not be neat.

Berlin Zoologischer Garten, the big train station next to the German capital’s old zoo, was notorious for its stinky loo. That’s why it had the not very flattering nickname Bahnhof Klo.

Private homes might generally be cleaner in Europe than in Taiwan. This isn’t the case at all when it comes down to lavatories open to everybody. Therefore, Europeans should be very careful when criticizing Taiwanese standards of hygiene.

Though thanks to the blessings of multiculturalism, to put their house in order has nowadays become mission impossible, I vividly remember the stench of rotting goods in some fruits and vegetables shops run by Pakistani immigrants in Valencia…