May 31, 2008

Off and on

That Cluster of Countries on the Other Side of the Ocean has got incredible architecture, amazing sights, beautiful churches, fascinating history, and a wealth of art. But I will say this about Country of My Birth, the land where I currently reside: we have better bathrooms.

I've been spoiled, I guess, by living in a country where public bathrooms have windows, often a whole line of sinks under big mirrors, and spacious stalls underneath bright lights and high ceilings. The typical bathroom we'd find in a restaurant in City of Hot Gondoliers was so small that you'd see customers stripping off cameras and coats before they entered to make themselves as small as possible. Even if I wasn't claustrophic (which, I might add, is a perfectly rational fear), I would not be crazy about locking myself into a dark cubicle with the approximate dimensions of an upright coffin. And since when is toilet paper optional? It's perhaps significant that after spending a week in Kicking Country, I stepped into the bathroom on the airplane and thought, "Wow, this is kind of nice."

The lights in the bathrooms were on timers, which took some getting used to. The first night, I walked into a small restaurant bathroom, wedging myself what appeared to be an airless closet, and wriggled into position so I could shut the door. I untangled my wet raincoat from my bag and took off the fleece tied around my waist and tried to figure out where in this cramped space I could set those things down. Then suddenly, I was plunged into utter darkness. I screamed and began hitting the walls until finally my hands happened on the light switch.

That's when I learned the important rule about European bathrooms: find the light switch first thing.

The hotel, too, had little light switches in the halls and on the stairs. So if I was going to the lobby at night with my laptop, I'd have to find the little switches and press them as I made my way down. My father, a retired lawyer, kept muttering that the hotel would be negligent if someone fell down the stairs in the dark. But once I got used to the little light switches, I could see that they made sense. In Wasteful Country Where I Live, hotels and office buildings are often lit brilliantly all night long, even when no one is in the building. The European model makes much more sense. It's just a matter of getting used to it, acquiring the habit of checking where the light switch is when you enter a bathroom or hallway. Just in case you need to find it in the dark.

14 comments:

Monna said...

Hi Jo(e),

Your post about Italian bathrooms made me laugh aloud. I live in Barcelona and would say that Spanish washrooms are only marginally better. I also am fascinated at how small a European bathroom can be... the teensey-tininess of the loo can make it tricky to enter and close the door which, again, shows why it is so important to find the light switch first.

Then again, nobody goes to Italy for the bathrooms :-)

I have loved your posts from Venice!

Songbird said...

Just in case, indeed!

peripateticpolarbear said...

In France, and then later in Scotland, I stayed in hotels where in order to have the lights on, one had to put the little credit card key thing into a slot--which, of course, prevents one from leaving the hotel room with the lights on (unless one also left without one's key.) It made a heck of a lot of sense to me.

Our scotland hotel also had a big huge soap dispenser in the shower, which makes a lot of ecological sense. Think how many teeny tiny bars of soap get used once and thrown out....and how much paper is used to wrap them.

I wonder how one gets into an Italian bathroom if one was a big person....do football players not pee in Italy?

timna said...

Our apartment bulding in Israel had timers on the lights so the race was on -- could I get to the top of 4.5 flights without having to hit the light switch (usually yes, but that was awhile ago).
:-)

ymp said...

when I was in Europe--mostly France and several years ago--one of my traveling companions introduced me to the broom rating system. We only found one 5 broom bathroom but I still think fondly of that little restuarant in Dijon.

Zhoen said...

And here I thought a lot of the Boston bar restrooms were tiny.

Karin said...

The other good thing about US restrooms is that they are much more plentiful and easily located...lol! But this story made me think of a restroom in a Paris restaurant where I had to go through the kitchen and the storeroom and down down down stairs through another storeroom (all the while wondering if I was ever going to get there since I didn't speak French) to the bathroom that wasn't overly small, but was full of things that didn't fit in the other storerooms!

BlackenedBoy said...

I'd like to think we have a little bit more going for us than better bathrooms!

I've never been to Europe, but hopefully I'll go one day. Right now I'm just excited about seeing more of this country.

kathy a. said...

my old office had the lights on motion-sensors, so they went off after several minutes of inactivity. it was not uncommon to walk past an open door and see arms flailing in an effort to alert the lights that someone was still in there.

Yankee T said...

Ah, yes, Italian bathrooms-always a pleasure. What they lack in loos, they make up for in food, wine, and people!

jar said...

I'm getting ready for a trip to country formerly divided by large wall. Thanks for the tips about the bathrooms.

Also, thanks for all of the lovely photos. I've been ready a lot of Donna Leon and your photos help in bringing the area to life.

AF said...

Early on, when I was living in France, I had to hurry to find a WC because I had been drinking the water, if you know what I mean. I luckily found this bizarre high-tech, automated loo on a street corner--like a concrete phone booth--and felt lucky. A fed a couple of franc coins in a slot, the thing opened up and started humming and I went in. The street had been totally deserted of pedestrians, it was heated and comfortable in there on a rainy winter day, and for some odd reason, the Beach Boys were being piped in. I was feeling a touch homesick and I love the Beach Boys, so I was in no hurry to leave. When I finally emerged, there was a line of at least ten of the angriest French women I ever encountered in Paris, glaring at me. Yikes!

Jennifer said...

A lot of hallway and stairwell lights in Switzerland are on motion sensors. By the time he was two my now three year old had learned to wave his arms wildly in dark room. He also waves frantically at certain doors, expecting them to be automatic. He'll be so confused if we ever move to the US!

bsouth said...

I like to stick up for my country whenever possible, but you know what? You're so right - the toilets in the uk aren't much better than italian ones. I'd have me an american bathroom any day of the week!