Of course one of the most disconcerting things about living abroad is getting used to the toilet culture. Imagine my confusion today, while visiting a client’s offices which had both a male and female sign on the lavatory door, when I went in and found this scene.
His and hers?
Should I sit one the girls’ throne in the expectation that one of my male colleagues would join me, to use the urinal? Should I use my briefcase as a barricade against the door to repel invaders? What is the etiquette if someone of either sex comes in? Does one strike up conversation? What is the best subject? Should I stick to the weather or move to the more topical ground of digestive health?
The dividing screen provides the absolute minimum level of privacy… but allows for the possibility of eye contact. But what if the man using the urinal is exceptionally tall?
Germans – I need your help here. What is the correct local etiquette in a mixed facility?
Nothing when travelling in a foreign country, is ever as daunting as that first trip to the lavatory.
German toilets are among the scariest. You see, on first sight, German toilets masquerade as normal toilets. This creates a false sense of security in the unsuspecting foreign user, who then lifts the lid and finds…. the inspection shelf.
German toilets are modelled back-to-front. Anyone sitting normally on the device cannot aim last night’s digested curry squarely down the hole. One option would be to straddle the toilet while facing the cistern, however this requires the user to divest all their lower clothing. Obviously the time taken to do this means that the queue of Germans outside the door becomes restless. People start banging and shouting: “Sind Sie immer noch nicht fertig?” in an increasingly hostile manner.
What the locals do is to sit on the seat as though it were a normal toilet … and emit their excrement straight onto the shelf. SPLAT.
The shelf, I am informed, plays a key role in the health of the German nation. The user, on rising from the throne, will inspect (I’m not sure whether with satisfaction, disgust or curiosity) the resting turds and make a note of the consistency, shape, colour and any abnormalities. Once the inspection is over, the toilet will be flushed… and the bowl cleaned as necessary using the brush provided.
The scatological information gleaned from the study of this morning’s dump can be passed on to a member of the medical profession if anything untoward were found (possibly with accompanying photo). Alternatively the experience will form part of the cheery response if any unsuspecting English person is silly enough to enquire after the Teuton’s state of health.
So when in Germany, remember to take your camera to the toilet… and never ever ask a German how they are. Especially when they’re just emerging from the bathroom.