Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Keep that spit to yourself

Perhaps it represents a point of cultural divergence - like the tipping system in the US, which I'll come to in another post - but whatever the source of my intolerance, the fact is, I cannot abide it. I just read an article suggesting that more anti-litter fines are needed in order to offset the fact that littering has soared by 500% since the 1960s and now costs the UK £500m each year. Fine. Good plan. And you know what else should be included in those fines?

Fines for spitting. The thing is so thoroughly vile and vomit-inducing, and I can't understand it.

Someone is always spitting in my immediate environment, and I am bothered both by the act of expulsion and by the product as it rests menacingly on the pavement: all globulous and frothy, threatening either to make me retch or to make me fall if I step in it and slip. Then parts of my person would be covered in someone else's sputum, and I might be forced to run home and boil myself in bleach. (Obviously, I probably pick up all manner of human issue without even knowing it. I'm fine with not knowing about it - that probably means it was negligible anyway. But knowing about it is the thing that would do me in, especially in the case of spittle. I'm afraid it's too much for my weak constitution.) I'm torn between looking straight ahead because I don't want to see the stuff every ten paces, and looking down to make sure I don't step on it. I usually stick to keeping my head up and using preemptive peripheral vision to avoid suspicious pools on the street. And people ambush me to too, the double-crossers. I very rarely look at strangers, although now, with all the random beheading going on, it's probably advisable to do so. But the moment I break my pattern to smile back at a pleasant-looking fellow, he turns out to be one of them: a spitter, who as soon as he has finished smiling at me, turns the other way to hack something up. Then he looks back my way to smile again! I'm not smiling at you, fella. You have just completely forfeited your smiling privileges.

Seriously, people. What is up with all the spitting? What is the source? Talk to me. What's going on in there that you constantly feel the need to eject something from your body? I'm genuinely curious because it is alien to me. And whatever it is, why is it that women seem less afflicted with it? Surely, if there were some condition creating festering pools of phlegm that needed to be expectorated every five minutes, women might have it too. I swear this didn't start as a 'women rule, men (quite literally) drool' exercise, but thinking about it, I can't recall seeing very many women lobbing spit at the sidewalk. We also tend not to pee against people's guard walls, so I'm guessing we're just in general greater fans of decorum.

I have spit stories too: like the time a man walking on a busy street dredged up a huge bastard of a loogie and let fly, only he misjudged the wind and it went splat onto the face of a little girl behind him as she held her father's hand. Her father looked at once pained, angry, violated and confused, and then promptly homicidal.

And my friend swore to me that people spit inside the trains all the time. I told her she was surely mad; and that no one would have the gall to spit indoors on a hard surface (!). How wrong was I. No sooner had we had that conversation than I saw a man cheerfully spitting up his entrails in a corner of the train. I, who have been known to yell at strangers for sticking gum under seats, was stupefied into silence.

The problem is, people in big cities tend to have a very low glare factor. In a place where people don't even bother to look at each other and where we act like we're each floating about in our separate bubbles, registering disgust with a look is rare. So people either don't know what such a look means, or more to the point, probably don't care. Growing up, spitting was frowned upon. People still did it, of course, every now and then, but Bajans have a high glare factor, and a low tolerance for public nastiness. I've seen people caught in coughing fits unwittingly cough up phlegm, and then sit on the bus looking nervous with a mouth full of spit, waiting until they could get off and find a hidden patch of dirt to get rid of it. It's at least acknowledged as an indelicate exercise, so even when you're forced to do it, you try to make it inconspicuous. I much prefer that approach to the sport spitting approach: just dropping little blobs of squickyness all willy-nilly as if you're being scored on it.

People might balk at the idea of being fined for spitting, but it's not like being fined for vomiting or for crying. Presumably you have some control, or at least enough forewarning to be more discreet about it. I might throw an apple core under a bush where I know it's hidden and will bio-degrade, but I won't leave it on a bench or drop it on the pavement. And in these cold months, spit doesn't dry for ages. It just hangs out, watching the game, drinking a Bud. So it's almost as much of an eyesore as solid litter. Plus, it just grosses a mongoose out, man. Bring on the spit police.


  1. I so agree!! Do not know where these people have learnt their manners ( actually they have none!) Send them all to spit jail!

    Keep on mongoosing

  2. Awesome post! I was spit on by some supposed playmates as a child when they were trying to get me to do their bidding, so I have a particular revulsion for spitting. If my partner can go into the bathroom and close the door to cough up phlegm even when he's deathly ill and can hardly move, I really don't understand what is stopping perfectly healthy people from doing the same thing.

  3. Entirely. When I have stuff in my lungs after catching the latest crud, I carry paper towels, and if I run out of those, I spit on nature's dirt, instead of on anything made by Minds. I don't know what's with these seemingly healthy people that let go with one every 30 sec. while waiting for the bus. You'd think there was something wrong with their throats, but it is really their brains that are messed up. But I don't know how to straighten them out.

  4. Whatifgirl: Spit ON?! I'm sorry you went through that. A friend of mine experienced that as an adult as part of a racially-motivated assault. I can't even imagine the kind of rage and trauma that causes. Both in her case and in yours when you were a child bullied by people you trusted.

    Anon. above: you sound like a caped crusader against spitters. Lol. Thankfully it's not up to us to 'straighten them out', but I think the government could certainly help curb this particular habit.

  5. I just remembered, having read Whatifgirl's comment, that I too have been spat upon! A mad man in Jamaica spat directly at my face while I was in a car. Luckily, the window was wound up, but he'd have caught me right smack on the cheek! I was totally disgusted, screamed and stepped on the gas. I didn't kill anyone that day. They should thank their lucky stars.


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