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About the only thing we can be certain of these days is that the uncertainty permeating through practically every sector of society is set to continue for the coming months if not years.

La Fuente Azul N.2 panadería in Barrio Santandercito, Bogotá, Colombia.

“So do you want that with razor blades or not?” “Eh, you can leave them out.”

Much has been written about the “new normals”  we’ll have to live with because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of them, such as the wearing of facemasks in public, we’re seeing already.

Hy-giene, goodbye defences
We can expect hygiene standards across the board to crank up a few levels and what was once merely advice will most likely become obligatory.

There could, of course, be negative side effects to all this. There is a school of thought that, especially in the more developed countries, we’re already overly sanitised.

We don’t expose our bodies and immune systems enough to all that the natural world can throw at us to the point that when we inevitably “let the guard down” we’re in a much weaker position to tackle whatever may be attacking us.

Personally, I’ve generally had a more blasé approach to this, certainly in terms of eating street food, snacking on untreated fruit & veg and such like. I like to think it’s stood me in good stead.

I’m also not overly concerned about the cleanliness or otherwise of the public places in which I eat and drink.
Considering some of the establishments I’ve frequented in these parts, that’s a good thing.

‘Some places have posters detailing how to wash your hands, minus the actual means to do it.’

The washroom facilities — if they merit such a name — of many of Colombia’s ubiquitous tienda bars and a not-insignificant-number of its panaderías are often found wanting.

For example, some tiendas provide no more than a urinal in a not-very-private corner of the building. Very often there’ll be a poster with a step-by-step guide on how to properly wash your hands with one, um, minor snag: No sink or washbasin to actually carry out the practice. ‘Thanks for the theory, guys. Now, where can I go to do it for real?’

Should there be women customers — have they nothing better to be doing than frequenting a gentleman’s tienda? — they are usually given access to the private bathroom. It can come across at times, however, that the proprietor feels he/she is almost doing them a favour by letting them use the residents’ toilet.

In an even more health-conscious, nay hypochondriacal and paranoid society as a consequence of coronavirus, the future of such places is surely in doubt if they don’t improve their bathroom facilities, whenever they’re actually allowed to have seated customers on their premises again that is.

Razor-sharp enforcement
One would expect that Colombian health authorities will demand, at the very least, a fully equipped, easily accessible sink for patrons to wash their hands alongside a proper toilet.

Then again, my fleeting experience with Bogotá’s health authority, Salud Capital, wouldn’t fill one with much confidence that authorities here are actually capable of implementing any sort of standards.

The body’s response to my complaint after finding a razor blade — yes, a razor blade — in a pastel I bought in a barrio bakery (panadería) left a lot to be desired, to say the least.

In summation, the authority’s e-mailed reply was: “We inspected the panadería in question and told them not to use razor blades when preparing their products.” Wonderful.

“Eh, Juan, just had a visit from Salud Capital. Apparently we’re not meant to mix razor blades in with the dough. Currants, no problem, razor blades are out, though.”

“Really?! Who would have thunk it? What will we do with those 200 bite-sized blades I just ordered? What else are they good for?”

So, as is often the case with many things in Colombia, should new, stricter hygiene measures become law, their application in practice will be a different matter.

At times it works to one’s advantage, at other times, not so.

With so much uncertainty about, we can rest assured that this Colombian quirk won’t change any time soon.

With an unwashed hand looking out from the tienda urinal — mind the splashback — let’s raise a Poker to that.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast here.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. jaimetorres0930

    A razor blade in a pastel? Wow! However, to be fair, I once found a screw (yes, a screw) inside a candy in New York City…Actually, I did not “find” it: It destroyed an expensive dental filling. I did not even bother to complain. To whom? You’re so busy over there there’s no time

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