Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I know that in decent societies discussion about public toilets has to be eschewed, but on the other hand it's indisputable that even very decent men can't avoid using these facilities in foreign countries. Precisely at this moment, in this least dignified moment, many treacherous surprises await us. For example, in India, as a matter of principle, they use a bucket of water instead of paper. A Turkish toilet has two footprints and a hole instead of a toilet bowl, and it too can be problematic -- particularly when a lady in a glittery evening gown arrives at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. I wasn't in the ladies' there, but I have some Russian experience. In a Leningrad discotheque, I had to contend not only with the Turkish toilets but also with half-doors on the cabinets -- what the Americans call saloon doors. For foreigners, this is perplexing. Suffice it to say that in certain positions I'm ill prepared to meet and greet strangers.

I can understand why the Russian soldiers, barracked here in Slovakia during maneuvers, and had difficulty with our toilets. Staying balanced on the rim of the porcelain bowl must have been difficult. The damage done to the toilets from this overhead bombardment was extensive.
However, circumstances sometimes force you to form special relationships to these places. For example, a very fat sausage that I'd eaten during my family holiday in Polish part of Baltic coast, dictated that I was virtually a captive of such a facility for some days. All that time, my vision of the world was limited to the inside of shabby lavatory cabin looking at a handmade sign saying "KEEP CLEAN". It occurred to me that if I stole this sign it would be the best souvenir of my journey to the Polish seacoast. In fact it was most impressive sight I saw there.

I apologize to every delicate soul for presenting this life-important information about an activity that connects us in every corner of the world. For example, visiting Czech Republic or Slovakia you should know that both Czech and Slovak architects for some suspicious reason (because it have to be included in some technical rule) don't like the walls separating the men's and ladies' be built to the ceiling, but leave an open space of about a foot -- allowing infinite possibilities for overhearing the noises being emitted from the respective sides. This style of architecture also exists in Malaysia. Nevertheless, the biggest shock I've ever experienced was in the German city of Aachen.

Germans are a very hygienic nation. It's a country which doubtless rivals Japan or the United States for the gold medal in this category. Therefore, I made a once-in-a-lifetime experiment and visited a toilet in the railway station. I generally avoid such places because of hard-learned experiences from the washrooms in Czech and Slovak railway stations. I was calmed when I saw that the cabins had iron doors and that they were pay-toilets. I was sure that if you paid for your elevation in Germany, you surely couldn't go wrong. And yet, after I dropped my money in the slot and the door accepted it cordially, I stepped inside and was confronted by a toilet bowl with the incremental contributions of dozens of inventive predecessors. I recoiled in horror, and instinctively closed the door. In a following condition of resigned countenance I began to understand. As in socialist Russia where the waiters intentionally didn't clean the tables after the first diners had arrived at the restaurant, here, too, in capitalist Germany they had discovered a way to improve life. Left dirty and unhygienic, the pay toilet could fulfill its purpose: taking money from victims and making them realize that some things are shared globally -- from every perspective.

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