Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh, How I Have Tried to Avoid Writing About This

I have. I really have. But today was the tipping point.

I'm gonna talk about toilets.

What IS it about Russian toilets that they defy all efforts to stay clean? Just who, exactly, designed them so that nothing enters them in such a way as to efficiently exit them again without requiring a thorough scrubbing after each use?

I had this discussion with one of my favorite expats almost a year ago. This is how long I have been sitting on this topic, so to speak.

We came to the subject is a slightly oblique manner. We were talking about toilet to floorspace ratios and buffer zones. Because we both had smallish apartments (by American standards), and those apartments each had only one toilet.

Once, I lived in a house with six toilets. In Slovakia. But that is over the top even for an American.

Anyhow, how is it, we pondered, that while IN our Moscow toilets (for now we both have toilets that are separate from the rest of what I would call a "bathroom"), we are convinced that every sound, even the quietest sound, even the sound of one square of toilet paper floating gently towards the floor, is broadcast in THX throughout the entire apartment.

Yet if anyone else is in the toilet, we cannot hear anything. They could be giving birth. Or butchering a hog. I could be standing right outside the door.

And hear NOTHING.

This is a mystery of Russian design. And the miracle of close-quarters communal living.

So why can't they design a proper commode?

Favorite Expat felt that not only did the toilet bowl defy cleaning, but it was impossible to use without being, well, splashed. "It's awful!" she sobbed.

She says her husband suggested what he called "the Fisherman's Friend" (I think. It was something clever like that.).

"Just build yourself a little raft of paper," he told her. "Problem solved."

Did I mention here that we had this conversation at noon on a Friday in the Oktyabrskaya Starlite Diner?

We didn't get thrown out for making excessive noise while laughing, but the management had every right to protect the other customers from Toilet Talk During a Meal. The Spouse is nodding knowingly as I type this, as he believes I can turn even the most innocent conversation to the scatological and that mealtimes are especially dangerous with me if you are at all squeamish.

We did the raft thing in Slovakia where five of the six toilets in that house were what we came to learn were "Austrian" or "shelf" style. Blame Freud if you must, but the Austrians seem to have a penchant for self-examination of the most intimate kind. Below is a good example:

My Russian toilet looks deceptively normal.

So apologies for the topic today. We now return to our regular program.


Annie said...

Well, I have to tell you - those are both a LOT better than the Russian toilets I experienced!

Could you get on to "will not flush paper?"

How about the ones that are just holes in the floor?

Well, you can see I was not in the best places!

The Expatresse said...

Ah! Lest I sound like a total wimp, remind me to tell stories about awful toilets I have experienced. Mostly in Asia.

Those hole-in-the-floor ones are actually okay because you aren't required to touch anything . . . the "hover" I do anyhow . . . But I can never tell which way I'm supposed to face.

Toilet stories are the best, aren't they.

valentina said...

Jeez. Talk about Eskimo subject matter. That was the code word that developed in my mother's family for inappropriate dinner table conversation. It arose when someone in her family mentioned at the table that the Eskimos washed their hair in urine and my somewhat paradoxically Victorian/World Federalist/ Esperanto speaking/ Unitarian/ socialite grandmother declared the topic verboten! So since then the ccde word for discussing the scatalogical, the medical issues and anything gross is Eskimo.

Everyone at my 10 year old Monday night Chinese dinner at 7 club knows this and it is often invoked. But now it is my understanding that Eskimo is no longer the apt expression and has been replaced by Inuit...But we still use the term Eskimo for our purpose.

Yes the Austrian shelf toilet is weird but I have also seen them, hell,used them, in Paris. The Ala Turque, aka the hole in the floor, sometimes marked with small non slip tiles to stand on, can be found all over Europe wherever people were trying to save money on fixtures.

The most scandalously horrible toilet I have ever come across was in the old Yugoslavia, somewhere in Bosnia now, off the side of a highway in a small inn. The feces were splashed 5 feet up the walls and thickly so. It was impossible to steady yourself by holding one hand against a wall and maneuver your bottom away from your panties to avoid splashing. Not to mention the fact that as soon as you opened the door and were confronted with the horrific place, you had to really examine how desperate you were or if you would rather just get back on the bus?

And I'll tell you the one in the Zagreb train station wasn't much better.

I would have preferred a tree in the woods to either of these! At least you would have something to lean against while squatting.

So I'll take a shelf with a clean seat anytime over an ala Turque...

But it is weird, like they are all trapped in that Freudian stage that necessitates examining ones out put?

And remember the seatless toilets in the WC in the beach cafe in Spain? I hate a toilet with no seat!

When I lived in Italy we all knew the bars and places where you could find the best toilets in Florence. A good trick is to find a hotel with a restaurant because they always have a public rest room and you can dart in and out. But I was taught that you should never go into a Parisian cafe to use the WC only without asking permission first.

Ahhh the decorum of toilets! Who'd a thunk it? xov

mosaikmum said...

Yes, I agree! Toilet stories are great! Being a nurse, its not uncommon to partake in toilet related topics and much worse at the dinner table.
A coincidence you wrote on this topic was only a few days ago (at lunch) that I was enlightening my co-workers to the wonders of the Russian toilet with the 'inspection platform'. ;-)

Tina in CT said...

I encountered those ceramic recessed squares that you straddled while camping in the Alps. Thank goodness I had steady legs.

I'd have sure debated whether to use the vile facilities or get back on the bus near Bosnia that Valentina wrote about. Knowing how I am, I'd have the dry heeves if I'd been in that room.

I don't recall what my daughter's toilet is like in her Moscow apartment.

When using the restroom in GUM, I was glad that I always have a wad of fresh kleenex in my pocketbook as there was no toilet paper. And, I'd had to pay a matron to even enter the restroom.

Dinner table conversations in my house growing up often led to what my mother had experienced that day at work. She was head of the local hospital's EKG dept. and often ran cardiograms down in the ER. I vividly remember one conversation when she went into detail about helping the ER nurses when she was down in ER after seeing a patient. My father suddenly bolted from the dinner table as she was telling us about all the blood clots all over the place. Poor Dad.

TRex said...

Ahem, you really must visit a 7,000 man camp on a huge Russian construction project that employs dozens of different cultures (oh wait, none of those left!).

Getting home to your Moscow Sputnik closet and being splashed is a pleasure! But I'm pretty bent.

I have pictures!

Tina in CT said...

My suggestion is to find a good cleaning lady.

Susan said...

katherine and i have Greece horror stories, holes in the ground so filthy that we chose to go outside the WC in the bushes!!

Ella said...

The real horror story is about the toilets on the overnight train from Moscow to st.Petersburg and back. Oghrrrrr

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