Social attitudes toward other people’s loose hairs

Y’know what I’ve always found weird? That people get so deeply alarmed at finding a human hair in their food.

I mean, sure, it’s a sanitary problem if a restaurant’s employees are routinely shedding hair into the food. Not a sanitary problem that’s likely to kill anyone — as opposed to, say, storing food at an temperature that fosters bacterial growth — but it’s still a problem. Even though we’re living creatures who make mistakes sometimes and it’s easy enough for one stray hair to fall off someone’s head. Personally, I don’t fly off the handle and summon a manager if I find someone else’s hair. I just pick it out. I’m probably getting all kinds of human skin particles in the air I’m breathing, so why place extraordinary importance on this one human cast-off I’ve just happened to notice?

But I’m definitely in the minority in my society. I know that. Hair is thought of as beautiful and attractive when it’s attached to a human’s head, but remove the hair from its human and it instantly becomes an object of revulsion. At my restaurant workplace, we routinely get customers who discover one of their own hairs in the food and angrily complain to the management, wanting a new meal prepared. (No, seriously. Just a few days ago, a customer with long, curly red hair found a long, curly red hair in her food and lodged a complaint. None of the staff present that day had hair even remotely similar to hers.)

It’s part of first-world North American culture, I guess. We take hygiene very seriously, and many of us are privileged enough to throw food away just because one hair off a stranger’s head has touched it.

It makes me wonder how my Aligare folk would react to finding someone else’s sheddings in their food. Since 3 species of people live closely together, there’d be a wider variety of sheddings to be found.

"Waiter, there's some dragon in my soup!"

“Waiter, there’s some dragon in my soup!”

But whether Aligare folk find weasel fur, dragon feathers or betweenkind’s waxy hair, I can’t imagine they’d get in a flap about it. They don’t have germ theory, and they’re used to a much more rustic style of living than first-world humans are. Worst-case scenario, a particularly fastidious Aligare person would pick out the offending hair and the spoonful of food surrounding it. It wouldn’t be a reason to reject the food or make the cook feel badly.  More relaxed personalities would probably crack a joke while picking the hair out — particularly if they’ve found a korvi feather, since korvi do sometimes trade their own moult feathers. “Hey, friend! I’ve found something of yours! Are you paying me and letting me eat your food?”

It’s just one tiny aspect of culture. Even on Earth, different cultures have widely varying opinions on whether trace amounts of hair and saliva are something to worry about. But one thing’s for sure: I doubt germophobes read much high fantasy.

Related articles:

Forgetting about plumbing: why the worldbuilding details matter (heidicvlach.com)

◦  Conflict in reality and fiction: must we fight? (heidicvlach.com)

Anthropomorphic stories: what are they and who are they for? (heidicvlach.com)


2 Comments on “Social attitudes toward other people’s loose hairs”

  1. Dane says:

    I may be the wrong person to respond to this since I don’t really “get” the whole germophobe thing. Amusing anecdote, one time I ordered a burger from In-N-Out (if you’re ever down here, and you’re into burgers at all, get to an In-N-Out, serious), and as they called my number someone jumped and grabbed my tray.

    “Excuse me, that’s my burger.” I declare.
    “Oh. Sorry,” he responds, handing me the tray.
    The worker, standing across the counter from this event, pipes in. “Would you like another meal?”
    “No, this one’s fine? Nobody touched the food.” I say, somewhat confused but also not too surprised that she would be prompted to ask that.
    “Yeah, but some people think that’s kind of weird.”
    “Yeah, people are weird.”
    “Yeah,” she concludes with a tone that I can only describe as “I’m not allowed to say anything bad about a customer to another customer, even a hypothetical germophobe one, but thanks for giving us one less burger to make during the lunch rush.”

    I doubt germophobes would be inclined to dine out to Korean food, either. If you are unfamiliar with it then you’re seriously missing out, the side dishes are all plated individually but served communally. On the one hand, a germophobe would likely screech at the trace saliva inevitably left from the chopsticks. I’m like, “does anyone here have the flu? No? Alright, let me at it.” On the other hand, my mother absolutely mangles the side dishes because after eating there every week for over a year she hasn’t entirely grasped the concept of bringing the side dishes to you (her mild mental disability I think plays a part here); she’ll often bring her soup to the communal trays, gets it all over everything, and scoop some back up. As she’s my mother, I don’t really care about all those icky germs, but I probably wouldn’t bring her along with anyone else, either.

    Speaking of that restaurant, that really good waitress I told you about earlier quit, which makes me sad, but they’re generally good people there, and I very rarely have a bad experience, so I’m happy to continue to bring Mom there.

    • Yeah, the perception of contamination doesn’t always make rational sense, huh? But I’m definitely familiar with Korean eating customs and the potential culture clashes there! I worked for a Korean family restaurant that fed their staff in the traditional way. New employees were visibly taken aback by everyone sticking their chopsticks into the same bowl — not so much because they were grossed out, I think, more like it was just against their Canadian conditioning.

      Aww, hopefully your good waitress has moved on to better things.


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