Over the past few years I have noticed American germaphobic characters in movies. Snakes on a Plane comes in mind. And there is Babel where the wife keeps using Purell as they trek their way across North Africa.
This American stereotype is true. Based on conversations with people who travel (plus, admittedly, my own feelings), it seems that over the past few years that the U.S. has become more and more germ obsessed. Casual conversation at my latest trade show found over half the people (all Americans) doing some sort of activity in the last month to avoid or "clean" germs (I include using Airborne). And I think part of the problem is products like Purell.
In order to sell Purell the marketing people create commercials like this. Similar ads can be found for various "bacteria killing" soaps, kitchen cleaners and other household cleaners. Add to this constant "studies" about germs in and around work, and exposes on how certain items aren't being cleaned and sanitized and you have the making of a mass phobia.
It doesn't help that new parents are just about insane about keeping germs away from newborns. Friends and relatives who come a visit a baby these days have to bathe in Purell before finally holding the infant. But as the baby gets older, the Purell doesn't leave the house and another family gets addicted to the equivalent of ritual hand washing.
I have to admit that I have been affected, wincing away from people who have colds and avoiding what I think are unclean areas (airport bathrooms come to mind, although there now are other reasons to avoid them). I also carried my own bottle of Purell when I traveled, but it is something that I weaned myself off of. Besides regular soap works just as well.
I think this problem will get worse over time, as Americans become more and more coddled, living in a fake reality where they think they can remove all risk from their lives. This is one of the magic products that is supposed to remove some of that risk, but it isn't stopping people from getting sick.