I am almost loath to write about such a disgusting subject. Why should I dictate etiquette guidance to whom I know are educated, upstanding readers? Who in their right mind thinks it is ever appropriate to spit in the street?
Well, apparently more people than you would like to think. Spitting is, on occasion, an involuntary impulse; only the other day was I cycling along when a suicidal fly flew straight into my mouth, unprepared as I was for an amuse-bouche, my instinctive reaction was to hastily eject it.
My problem lies with the habitual spitter, we’ve all seen them, and more disgustingly, we’ve all heard them.
Recently, as I went about my business, I bent down to address a wayward shoe lace, as I did I could hear the footfall of an approaching male adult. While they remained out of my peripheral vision, I was alarmed to hear a throat dredge before a splodge of spittle was jettisoned onto the pavement just metres from where I crouched.
Of course I knew the ilk who would commit such an anti-sociable offence: cropped hair, hooded top, tattoos borne out of pseudo-rebellion and an attire which suggests never-worked/won’t-work. But then I caught a glimpse of some smart leather boots, as I looked up I could see a slim-fit pair of jeans, then a tailored blazer jacket. Slung over this miscreant-in-disguise’s shoulder was a laptop bag and on his face a well-maintained beard. This was not a man going to or from a glue sniffing get-together, this was a man going to or from his job – and judging by his appearance, a good job at that.
I have noticed this occurrence more and more across the spectrum of society, age groups and genders – all in a supposed civilised Swedish city. So how did this happen? Did I miss the memo? Is it now okay for us all to regurgitate bile as and when we please and deposit it on the nearest pavement?
I am not so naïve to think that in this multi-cultural world, spitting has varying levels of social acceptability and can be perceived in different ways. Take China, for example, when the 2008 Olympics hurdled into Beijing, a government crackdown on the overly-spitty Chinese led to phlegm bags being handed out to save the city’s pedestrian paths – persistent offenders were fined.
Many of us have never been to the East, so put it down to a somewhat disgusting cultural quirk that the chances are we would never encounter first hand. In truth, many eastern cultures believe that when you spit in public you might by chance spit on a passing other-worldly spirit. Anyone who has been briefed by spooky horror films knows that the last thing you want to do is peeve off a poltergeist – ergo, spitting in these cultures is unlucky.
In contrast, many cultures have seen it as a means of warding off evil spirits. From rural parts of India to Romania and Moldova in Eastern Europe, spitting has been regarded as a most efficient way to preventing the attention of malevolent forces and hard-to-shift curses. In Greece there is a custom of gently spitting three times near someone you’ve just paid a compliment to, often grandchildren and loved ones, but not excluding animals and plants.
But I don’t live in rural India and I am fairly sure the people I see and hear in my home Swedish city and not custom-observing Greeks. So what else might cause this alarming trend?
Art perhaps? Where there is a bodily fluid, there is normally some kind of attention-seeking street artist trying to use it to their creative advantage. Welcome then, to the yet-to-really-catch-on world of spit art:
I cannot say I’m fond of this movement, and judging by the impact it has had on the alternative art world, it doesn’t look like anyone else is either. But maybe this all just adds to the general consensus that it’s perfectly socially acceptable.
Clint Eastwood will always be held in high regards when it comes to all things ‘cool’, so perhaps his habit of gobbing his chewing tobacco into a spittoon is part of the mix. Or maybe you think that you’re the next Ronaldo, just because you can perfectly emulate his spitting style. May I suggest you practise you ‘dribbling skills’ rather than your ‘drooling skills’?
Truth be told, whether this is engrained into your culture or not, it has no place in modern day society. That somewhat crass sentiment of ‘better out than in’, really does not apply. So no matter which social echelon you regard yourself in, if you spit in public, you are, in my mind, in the dregs.