It’s nearly a week now since Birgit and I had our little international altercation on the merits of Teutonic versus Anglo-Saxon plumbing.
Of course in the meantime we’ve talked about some of Birgit’s other favourite topics. Like how the British are entirely responsible for global warming, world poverty and losing socks in the washing machine. How the NHS isn’t really a health service, A’ levels not genuine qualifications and English cottage gardening is actually throwing everything together into one flowerbed and going back to the pub.
But ever since that plumbing discussion, whenever there’s a lull in the conversation (which happens if I, say, take a moment to sip my coffee) somehow the subject of bathroom fittings rears its ugly head again.
Yesterday morning, for example.
It was my fault of course. I was just trying to explain something about the audience profile of a minor German TV station and I made the mistake of pausing mid sentence to draw breath. Birgit leapt on the opportunity.
“Taps.” She said accusingly.
I’m used to this sudden switch in topics by now, otherwise I might have toppled backwards off my chair and through a windowpane.
“The British don’t have proper taps in their bathrooms.”
Fortunately there is no need for me to speak. I already know that Birgit is about to provide me with a lengthy and caustic explanation of exactly how the British have failed in the provision of German-standard running water in their homes.
“In an English bathroom at the sink or in the bath you always find two taps. About thirty centimetres apart. One for the cold and one for the hot water.”
“Yes. What’s so wrong with that?”
“When you want to wash your hands, you have to choose either hot water or cold water. You either scald yourself or freeze your fingers. Or you have to turn on both taps and wash in first hot, then cold, then hot…. you can’t get proper temperature water unless you fill up the entire sink and waste ten litres of water on something you only needed one splash for.”
I am speechless. Which is fortunate as Birgit is just starting to warm to her subject so I wouldn’t have got a word in anyway.
“You British have never heard of the German Mischbatterie… the mixer tap, which brings the hot and cold water together and provides it at the perfect temperature into the basin or the bath. No, instead you faff about with your silly cold and silly hot taps.”
For once I remain silent. This is because I have an enormous guilty secret. A secret so terrible, that if she ever finds out….it will be the end of everything. Brigit will have won forever.
You see, when I was growing up in the 1960s. We had an English version of a Mischbatterie. It was a device which looked like a cross between a milking machine and a garden hose. You stuck one “teat-holder” onto each tap… and the mixed water came out of a watering-can-style sprinkler on the end. It was made of rubber and was pink.
If Birgit ever finds out about the very existence of such a contraption, I am doomed. I will never be able to look her in the eye again. I can already visualise the look of triumph on her face. The British answer to the Mischbatterie will come up during every discussion on each and any subject as the trump card, the conclusive argument which proves once and for all that the English are inferior to the Germans in every respect.
“Pass me the phone book,” I blurt out eventually. “I need to look for a doctor who can re-attach the tip of my tongue.”