It says something about my lack of recent globetrotting that I’m really looking forward to discovering some strange bathrooms.

I’ll explain that in a second, but let it be known I’ve been stuck on this continent for five long years. In my 20s I had extended stays in Austria, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, and I’ve been home so long that I actually miss feeling uncomfortable.

I miss culture shock, in other words, which usually goes something like this:


  • 1) Fascination with the new culture: “Wow, they eat lizard eyeballs here!”

  • 2) Feeling uncomfortable: “My eyeball smells funny.”

  • 3) Rejection: “Who wants my eyeball?”

  • 4) Understanding: “Ohhh, my eyeball needs Tabasco!”

  • 5) Embracing the new culture: “I love eyeballs! Satisfying! Now, what was it you wanted to tell me was just a joke?”




I need bizarre food. I need confusing customs. I need to guess whether the local barfly seems like a big weirdo because of cultural differences between us or because he is, in fact, a big weirdo. And, yes, as a “one world” sort, I miss being able to embrace the full diversity of the world’s bathrooms.

Here’s a tour:

In New Zealand, the locals are very conservative — not in their politics, but in their generosity with toilet paper. It’s an eco-friendly country, so toilet-paper dispensers only allow you one square at a time, and the automatic hand dryers turn on for approximately three microseconds, give or take a picosecond. Also, the flush is so wimpy that you can disturb the bowl equally well by jumping up and down on the bathroom tile. It’s madness.

 

In Zimbabwe, by contrast, the flush is so powerful you have to grab hold of the doorknob first, lest you be caught in the maelstrom. Also, the public services aren’t what they could be — the Murderous Despot Appropriation really cuts into public funds — so I would often open a bathroom door and watch as a wave of filthy water rushed toward me while I scrambled to escape, Indiana Jones-style.

In Vienna (motto: “Kultur aus der Wazoo”) there are “water closets” that play operas and urinals that are sculptures — no kidding. The urinal cakes may in fact be delicious pastry, but I never tried.

You can see how my boring old Canadian toilet isn’t measuring up, no matter what Don Cherry thinks.

So, I’m now in the process of booking a one-month trek through Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark. I’m hoping for interesting people, new food and plumbing to write about. Just thinking about it, I get a little flushed.

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