“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
― Gene Roddenberry
This woman learned long ago that what makes us different makes us interesting. Travel is one of those things that can open our eyes to different ways of thinking and different ways of living. Or not.
It still amazes me that some people pay money to travel…plan trips, take time off of work, pack their bags, drive to the airport, sit on a plane for long periods of time and then proceed to bitch moan and complain about everything that is different where they, presumedly, wanted to go.
Toilets and bathrooms in Italy are one example of something that causes much lamenting. The facilities can range from what Americans might consider normal, to seatless commodes, to literally a porcelain lined hole in the floor with helpful footprints painted on either side so one knows where to stand to make the least mess -to put it delicately.
Some bathrooms, in restaurants and bars especially, are located downstairs in the bowels of the building somewhere behind a curtain or an unmarked door and are so small it is difficult to turn around. Some have shared sinks with toilet stalls and can be disconcerting as you enter the bathroom with a member of the opposite sex.
Most of these buildings are literally ancient and have been retrofitted with so much stone making renovation tricky. And so the sink might be controlled by a foot pedal or simply by a brass button sunk into the floor. Flushing is also often a puzzle to be solved with the actual mechanism not apparently connected to the “toilette.” Soap can be scarce as can toilet paper unless you are in a pay facility which may not be as clean as you would like but is usually adequately stocked.
Read the guidebooks, be prepared with a few supplies and small coins and it’s no big deal. But how many times in the Rome airport waiting to go back to the states have I heard someone complain bitterly that they can not wait to be home to use their own bathroom? Silly me, sitting there with my carry-on packed full of all things Italy, feeling so sad to leave. Reuniting with my toilet seat is definitely not top of mind.
As I write this, my host in Siena is hanging the laundry out to dry. Clothes dryers are rare in homes. Supermarket eggs are not refrigerated. There is a comma in numbers where we put a period. Temperatures are in celcius. Shoes sizes are different and here I don’t wear a medium anything, but usually a large. Air conditioning is not a given, nor is heat during certain times of the year. There is no tipping in restaurants and you can buy a bottle of great wine for a third or less than what it would cost you at home. When a commercial break arrives on Italian TV, there is a note on screen beforehand that a promozione is coming.
If you start to put these differences in mental pro and con columns, you are missing the point. These differences, as Roddenberry wrote, are part of the delight and variety in learning about different cultures.
I wholeheartedly embrace this diversity….with one tiny exception. Italian mops. Now that I’m here for long stays, I happily help out with the daily chores like grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. After vacuuming the apartment the first time and insisting on washing the floors, I was handed a basin, a cloth and a stiff push broom. Still hopefully looking past Alberto to the supply closet to see at least a sponge mop, he re-directed my attention to the process. Fill the basin with soapy water, dunk the cloth in the water, wring it out, place it on the floor, push it around with the broom. Repeat.
Now that it’s a familiar process, it’s not so bad. I usually shake my head and laugh then launch into a chorus of “this is the way we mop the floor, mop the floor, mop the floor” as I work. But I can’t help wondering if an O’Cedar spin mop is on the TSA list of forbidden items? Or better…Swiffer people, are you listening?