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?


jfruh said...

When I lived in Berlin my apartment's toilet (and this seemed generally true in the city) had a seat and everything in the usual way, the bowl itself had a tiny little bit of water down at the mouth of the pipe; the rest of it was sort of a giant, gently sloping shelf that water flowed over when you flushed. This meant that when you went #2, your poop just sat there on said shelf until you flushed, and often even then the somewhat gentle flow of water was never enough to clean up the remains completely. I never quite understood the point of this design; a friend suggested that the anal-retentive Germans liked to inspect things.

yellojkt said...

I've heard the German anal-retentive theory as well, but I've never seen one of their toilets in the field. It sure would make getting PSA test samples easier.

All Italian restrooms also had a toilet brush next to them, so bowl cleaning is not a consistent feature of theirs either.

Mooselet said...

First off that last picture is disgusting. I'm looking for some bleach after looking at it.

Like Josh I also lived in Germany (near Bitburg) and had the shelf toilet. It was very weird, to say the least.

99% of public toilets in Australia and pretty clean and free - a huge change from the States. The oddest thing here is the lack of lights - most rely on sunlight to light up the stalls. There are also two buttons on the tank (most of them anyway), one for a half flush for #1 and the other for a full flush for #2. And no, the water doesn't swirl the other way.

A Free Man said...

Worst - Britain. Free but rare and disgusting.

Best - Australia. Free, plentiful and generally clean.

yellojkt said...

A lot of Italian toilets have the two button system without any sort of interpretive symbols. I call them half-moon and full moon.

DemetriosX said...

OK, I live in Germany and while the shelf toilets still exist, they are slowly fading away. These days it's mostly older people who have them, whether from habit or for ease of sample collection I don't know.

The house we bought 4 years ago had two. It definitely took some getting used to. We've replaced one, but may keep the other. My wife has had a couple bouts of bladder cancer and the shelf makes it easier to tell if there's any bleeding, so there are some advantages. The flow of water isn't all that gentle anymore, but every once in a while things do stick. It's unpleasant, but you just have to give things a push with the toilet brush and away it goes.

Jumper said...

The oddest toilet I ever used turned out to not be a toilet at all. Oops! Sorry!

Anonymous said...

When I was in school in Galway Ireland, I noted that a good many of the public bathrooms had communal urinals that were essentially large sinks (sometimes porcelain, sometimes metal) that were long and shallow, with a back-splash on the wall to which the trench/sink urinal was mounted. A little less private than Americans are used to, but so far, so good.

However - in a few places like stadiums, the communal urinal was more like a huge basin that guys stood around on all sides, so you were all essentially facing the guys across from you, all hopefully aiming downward. Even odder were the variations on this theme, such as the pit that wasn't even elevated that you all stood around, facing one another, and the miniature versions I encountered in some pubs, essentially birdbath sized sinks that you can approach from all angles...

The Mistress of the Dark said...

That last one scares me. Some of the worst toilets I've found were in Kaufmann's Dept store, followed by the Turnpike in PA!