by Melinda Gallo

Whose hands are cleaner?

When I was a little girl, our family owned an ice cream/gift shop that later became a sandwich shop. My mother taught me to always wash my hands after touching money and before touching food. In the US, I feel that people follow these rules quite rigorously; however, in Italy I'm a little perplexed here as sometimes hands are washed and other times not.

?When I go to the macelleria (butcher shop), the guys handle the meat and my money without washing their hands. They might wipe them on their grembiule (apron), but that doesn't seem sanitary either.

When I go to the fruttivendolo (greengrocer), they never wash their hands between customers. A few times, my ortolana (greengrocer) thrust a grape or cherry in my face to taste it and I've felt obliged to eat it. I wasn't able to wipe it off before popping it in my mouth because she was watching me to see what my reaction was to the taste of the fruit. "Buono, no?" (Good, huh?), she asked and I nodded with a smile.

But then, I'll go to a supermercato (supermarket), like CoOp or Standa, and they have a box full of plastic gloves, next to the plastic bags, that you're supposed to use when you pick out your fruits and vegetables. I once saw a woman yell at a man who didn't put the glove on. Many of the people looked at him in disgust and shook their heads. I was happy I didn't make that faux pas, but it's a bit confusing.

I, of course, can't watch people in restaurants or bars, but I'm sure the same rules apply for the staff as for the vendors at the mercato.

In Italy, vendors don't need to wash their hands, but customers better put on a glove when if they want to handle the fruits and vegetables in a supermercato.

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