Oh, Golly

It was probably the sign – at the front, on the inside of the bus – that started me thinking about it. Even at six years of age I couldn’t comprehend why it was needed. Surely, no-one would do such a thing, would they?

Not that I ever did see anyone do it on a bus. Perhaps it was the stiff penalty that deterred people. After all, the notice was right on the front bulkhead, upstairs and down, in big red letters so everyone could see:


I rode the bus a lot during my childhood. Later, when I was a young man, I drove those same buses for a living. Yet, in all that time, I never saw anyone spit inside a bus.

In Britain, or at least my part of it, the very act of spitting was considered low and disgusting. It was the sort of thing old men did, late at night when they fell down the pub steps at closing time and staggered off into the darkness, ejaculating their sputum into the gutters as they went.

It was rare to see anyone spit in daylight. There were notices up in some parts of the city, and local by-laws made it illegal to spit in public. I remember entering Liverpool Central train station on my way home from work one afternoon, when I was about seventeen, and a dirty old tramp coming in my direction put up his hand and blasted the contents of his nose right onto the pavement in front of me. I stared in horror at the green, gooey, mess and almost vomited. It put me right off my dinner.

In general, though, very few Europeans practice this antisocial habit. Apart from the occasional group of low-life, teenage, males desperate to express their manhood, or drunken old men of the aforementioned status, most Europeans choose to save the expulsion of saliva for the privacy of their bathroom washbasin, while cleaning their teeth.

Among the many severe culture shocks I’ve experienced since landing on the North American continent, the prevalence of spitting in public, freely and without apparent shame, is surely one of the most vile. Whether this is a nationwide phenomena, or merely confined to the less sophisticated and culturally bereft Heartlands, is debatable. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to be out and about more than a few hours without suffering the image of individuals “gollying” in the street.

While the most common culprit is a young male, the habit is not restricted to any one class. Students, businessmen, and women, from all walks of life are at it.

The question that arises from all this is: why do they do it? Young men erroneously consider it a display of macho imagery. In fact, the opposite is true. If their saliva is so tainted they daren’t allow it in their intestines, then they must have very weak stomachs, and weak stomached males aren’t in the least macho.

Of course, projecting a macho image is way more important to the American male than his European counterpart. Just look at this nation’s obsession with guns.

The art of public sputum ejaculation is not, however, confined to the male of the species. Not on this continent, at least. Only today I was driving my school bus in a line of traffic and stopped at a red light. The car in front was a convertible with the roof down. Even from the back it was obvious the driver was a most attractive young lady. Blonde hair flowed over shapely shoulders; the dress was close-fitting and expensive. A rear view mirror framed subtly appealing blue eyes beneath exquisite lashes.

Just as any red-blooded male, my eyes were riveted to this vision of sensual delight as she turned her face to the car’s door, displaying a delightful profile. The light turned green. In an act of experienced accomplishment and without moving her head, a stream of translucent saliva sprayed forth from her lips, jetting a full two feet into the air before finally hitting the ground and splattering across the roadway.

The car turned right.

I swallowed the bile rising to my throat, and drove straight on.

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6 Replies to “Oh, Golly”

  1. Repulsive habit, I agree, RJA, turns everyone off their feed. Not to mention the sheer unhygienic effect of it all. I’ve observed people (all men) anywhere near an open pit (and I include railway tracks, etc.) and they seem to have an overwhelming compulsion to expel bodily fluids into it – urine too.

  2. Spitting is a horrible and disgusting habit, whether men or women do it…. however, I saw plenty (British) men in London spitting all over the place…. Also, there is definitely a macho men image in Britain as well. Just observing how some men behave in football matches is enough to put any women off…

    I think the problem of the “Macho men” is a problem in every society… not just here in the US….

    However, seeing any one spit is horrifying but seeing a woman spit is even more shocking! no matter where one is in the world… hmmm….

  3. Unfortunately this habit is not contained within the USA. I have encountered many spitters on the pavements of the United Kingdom. Personally, I find the habit foul and completely unnecessary: the younger generation however do not share my views and hawk up their offerings along the street at their leisure. Mind you, it seems the practice has been going on for a while…“And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.” The Bible.

  4. P.s WiseWebwoman- I think there are fouler offerings left on the rail tracks than sputum…especially if anyone has recently used a lavatory on a train built before 1987…!

  5. WWW – disgusting, but Americans seem to enjoy it.

    George – I’m too old to go back to school.

    Nevin & Kiya – I wasn’t suggesting the practice was confined to the US. The point I tried to make was to emphasize the different cultural attitude towards it in the States. To many Americans its as normal a public function as tying one’s shoelace.

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