Thursday, April 30, 2009
Toilet Talk - Italy Edition
One of the great benefits of foreign travel is to gain an insight into other cultures. And that often includes their sanitary habits. Previously, I have blogged about the range in quality of toilets in Japan as well as the outhouses and public restrooms in China. My recent trip to Italy opened my eyes to new traditions and systems.
While public restrooms are fairly prevalent they are often missing the amenities that some people associated with johns. Like seats. More often than not, a public restroom was a forced hover zone. I have no idea whether they just never put them in or if there is a huge black market in stolen toilet seats. The predominant design also had the tank located fairly high. It often took some searching to find the button it took to start the flush.
At the other end of the spectrum, every hotel room had a bidet. We usually associated the privates washer with the French, but the Italians love their bidets. The bidet in this first picture was in the restroom of a restaurant in Assisi. I'm still wrapping my head around the scenario where you need to run some water across your genitals after a meal of boar meat sausages, but clearly the Umbrians have their reasons.
And while they are fastidious about keeping everything below the belt sparkling, the rest of the body seems to play second fiddle. Shower stalls are uniformly smaller that phone booths. 3 foot by 3 foot would be considered huge. Depending on how the door was set-up, dropping the soap was a disaster because there was no way to pick it up without getting out of the shower. In one case, there was no separate shower stall at all, just a shower curtain along one side of the bathroom with a drain in the middle. At least they had the sense to put the power plugs on the other side of the door.
But it wasn't until our fourth day that we ran across the bane of European water closets, the trench toilet. While in Florence, we had walked all the way up the far bank of the Arno to San Miniato and were overlooking the city when nature began to call. Down by the gift shop were two small unisex toilets without a throne at all. You're supposed to place one foot on the ridges on either side and aim for the middle. One lady in our party was just not up to the task and was very grateful to find a full service rest area further down the hill. Probably the best euro she spent the whole trip.
And that is probably the biggest philosophical difference. In America toilets are free but few and far between. They are considered an amenity for paying customers but not the hoi polloi. This weekend my wife was denied access to the john at the Slate Run General Store even with a purchase. In Italy, you get what you pay for and is often worth it.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where have you found the best or worst toilets?