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Germs = Colds

January 4, 2007

   In October of 2006, Sevilla had an unusually rainy set of weeks, to the point of occasionally having to swim in parts of the city that were nowhere near the river. On my way home from school one afternoon, I got caught in what can only be described as a 'surprise monsoon', and I was (to put it lightly) completely soaked. The thing about the weather in Sevilla is that it's a tricky bastard. It can be a perfect, blue-sky day one minute, and the next minute it's pouring like Noah's Ark is coming back in style. Having a fondness for rain, I found this all somewhat amusing. My host mother did not. When she spotted me walking through the door, drenched and dripping, she dragged me into my room and all but stripped me of my wet clothing, while simultaneously handing me dry clothing and a towel and running to the kitchen to make tea (how do they do that?). All the while she was chattering on about how I musn't get wet, that getting wet would make me sick, and that she had once gotten pneumonia because her back got wet. I stopped drying my hair, and looked at her.
    "You…what?" I asked doubtfully. Maybe I had some water still in my ears, because it sounded like she'd said…
    "When I was in my 40's I caught pneumonia because I got my back wet," she repeated, while fussing with the teabag. I put the towel down.
    "Angelita," I said as sweetly as possible, "I don't think getting wet causes pneumonia."
    "Oh yes, yes it does," she said as she shoved the teacup into my hands. "Before that I had never been sick in my life, then I got caught in a rainstorm like you did and pum! Pneumonia. Now you warm up while I go get dinner ready." She fretted over me for 3 days before I finally convinced her that I, at least, did not have pneumonia, and that I was going to be just fine (save the absence of my jeans, which I am sorry to say do not dry efficiently on a clothesline).
    Curious about her insistence that getting wet would make one sick, I started asking around amongst my Spanish friends to see if that belief prevailed. I knew that getting wet and staying wet naturally was not in your best interest, but this was the first I'd heard of the "instant pneumonia" theory. I was certain that it was just another little mania belonging to my host mom, but I had to make sure. I was floored when I got response after response agreeing with her– my teachers, the woman I had coffee with once a week, the guy who sold me stamps at the Post Office. I started seeing frightening cold medicine ads on TV, all of which inevitably showed some poor schmuck who'd been plastered in a rainstorm, and was now pale-sniffling-sneezing-coughing-sorethroated-plagueridden-and-webfooted. Luckily for the schmuck, such and such "super medicine" would cure all of that (except the webbed feet, which would require the attention of a plastic surgeon.)
    I began to worry a little bit. I thought that maybe I had missed the day in health when they told us that rain kills, so I asked a few Americans. "What the hell are you talking about?" came the response from my friend Heather. "Germs make you sick, you idiot, not rain." It was just like taking an alka-seltzer. Her sage wisdom brought me back to my senses.
    Now, let me make something clear: I am not an anti-germ zealot. I understand that getting sick can help you to become healthier overall if your body successfully fights off the invaders. I do not object to the lack of anti-bacterial  nonsense (like that which prevails in the U.S.), but this seems to be an extreme in the other direction ("Let's pretend germs don't exist!" "Great idea! We'll blame it on the rain!"). I'm of the opinion that a little common sense would go a long way in both cases.
    Unfortunately, one woman alone cannot undo the work of generations of Grandmothers who have passed along this old wives tale. I can, however, protect myself by doing three things: wash my hands, cover my mouth when I sneeze, and of course, learn how to open doors with my elbows.

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