Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I'm a pretty health-conscious person: I make pretty healthy foods for the most part and I typically walk everywhere--the last is, ironically enough, a measure of pure laziness on my end, because ever since we cleaned out our storage unit, I've moved my bike inside, and the hassle of getting it out for a 3-minute ride to the Albert Heijn isn't worthwhile to my mind. We have a fair supply of junk food, but that's mostly nibbled at here and there, to the tune of a bag of chips a week.

Now that I've signed a contract and we've agreed to a start date for me, I decided that now would be a good time to get a gym membership. There are several within easy distance of where we live, and the university's sportcentrum is open to the public for a really low price. Commuting five hours a day wasn't exactly conducive to making time for running, and the laundry issue in Maastricht managed to flummox me. (Laundry issue being that the basement where the machine was, was so gross and spider-full that I absolutely would not go there if I could help it. Plus, even with workout clothes, I simply don't generate that much laundry.)

So today I screwed up my courage and went in search of a gym. I realized a few things: first, they're really full even in the middle of the day. Retirees and well-off-women have that kind of luxury, so it didn't surprise me to see them all there. What did creep me out a little, though, was the fact that the populace in the weight section of the gyms were solely young men. And all of them were staring at me when I took a quick tour of the place with the instructor.

The other thing I realized is that there are no antiseptic wipes/bottles anywhere. In order to understand why this skeeves me out like no other, you have to realize that in 2005-6, I came down with a mild case of what I suspect to be staphylcoccus, picked up at the gym at Temple (which did have antiseptic wipes, which everybody--including myself--used). It gave me a rash which was misdiagnosed by my family physician as "just another eczema flare-up", darkened the skin around my eyes so that I looked to be wearing permanent eyeshadow (not an altogether unappealing look, to be quite honest), and opened up sores on the corners of my mouth. In the six years that have passed since then, most of the issues have quieted down and gone away, although I still get occasional sores at the corners of my mouth. You might wonder that I actually ventured into a gym again after that.

But in any case, having toured two facilities and seeing nary a spray-bottle in sight, I asked Karel about this when he woke up (late night), and he confirmed that Dutch gyms typically do not require that you sanitize after yourself. Simply wiping off the equipment with your towel is considered enough. The equipment is, of course, sanitized by the staff at the end of the day, but during the day, you could be sitting in the sweat traces of fifty people. I'm not a germaphobe--at least, not a very big one--but that just seems, well, excessive to me. And, in light of my skin conditions, REALLY REALLY REALLY GROSS.

It's strange if you think about how clean the Dutch are in almost every other aspect of their private and public lives (in general--exceptions are students and the hapless sod that ends up on the Dutch version of Hoe schoon is jouw huis?). There is of course the neverending mystery of why nobody picks up after their dog, and why people let their cats poop in other people's gardens, but you could argue that poop is at least biodegradable. The Dutch may have one of the lowest rates of community-acquired MRSA, but frankly, just having regular staph is pain enough. The gym is one place, at least, where you'll not be finding me...

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