The Greater Truth about Toilets, a French Mystery, and Something Nice about Germany

Telling my story about a French toilet in Spain, and reading about a similar toilet in India, and remembering similar toilets in Taiwan—well, I saw a pattern. Seeing a pattern, one looks for a Greater Truth.

Here is the greater truth: Squat Toilets.

The Greater Truth is that the “squat toilet” can be found all over the world. Just google squat toilet and you’ll see I’m right. China, Japan, Turkey, India, Bangladesh…you get the picture. The squat toilet is a general fixture in the Orient.

So why do they have squat toilets in France and Spain? Okay: Spain was occupied by the Moors for 700 years. The Moors were North African Muslims, and Islam is “oriental”. Perhaps squat toilets thus moved north from the middle east to the Moors to the Spaniards and north to the French. But who knows?  Is there a standard historical work on toilets?

It is a great mystery. I mean, the French pride themselves on being civilized. They have their “ooh la la” language and Parisian fashion and the world’s absolute best bread in the baguette. They have their fancy wine and cuisine. They have their well-educated political elite and ultra-sophisticated attitudes towards just about everything in the universe.

But they have squat toilets.

Not everywhere, perhaps. Your hotel room in Paris likely has a sit-down toilet (it also likely has a bidet—but that’s another story altogether). But go to a a normal bathroom in a normal restaurant in a normal town and you might very well have to use a squat toilet.

This is the French Mystery. Why would a country which could create something so civilized and perfect as a croissant not wish to perfect and standardize basic hygiene?  Is French culture all about outward appearance—well-dressed, well-coiffed, and perfumed on the outside, but psychologically indifferent to any advances in shit-removal technology.

Here in Germany things are different. I have never seen a squat toilet. But EVERY toilet, public or private, has a toilet brush nearby—which you are expected to use. That’s right: in Germany, whether you are at a train station or an airport or a gas station or a campground, you can expect that the toilet you use will be relatively clean. Because after you flush you ARE expected to look at the toilet bowl and use the brush to brush away any remaining shit-streaks or particles so the next person doesn’t have to look at them.

Germany, in general, has the cleanest public toilets of any place I have ever been.

Which I find to be one of the nicer things about Germany.

jj

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A German Toilet

Okay, our house has three toilets, and only mine looks like this:

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What you will notice is that the hole where the waste goes is NOT under your asshole.  What this means is that when you defecate you defecate onto a shelf.  Later, when you flush, the waste will be sent down the hole.  But until you flush, you have a nice pile of steaming, stinking shit to examine and analyze.  This is very healthy.  When your doctor asks about your “stool”, well, you can give a good answer, because it was sitting on this little shelf and you had time to look at it and smell it.

Again, my personal bathroom has such a toilet.  What this means for me in real life is that I no longer read for twenty minutes while doing my business.  I shit, I wipe, I flush, I leave.  I have other things in life to analyze besides my shit.

jj

…a French toilet, a Maglite, and camping in Spain

I know how it is for Americans.  You all think that the Europeans are advanced and sophisticated.

Right.

Later I will tell you about German “shelf” toilets.

But today I will tell you about a camping trip in Spain.

We must begin, however, with the French toilet.  I first encountered the French toilet in France, though it was similar to toilets I had seen as a child in Taiwan, and virtually identical to the Indian toilets here on my friend G’man’s blog:  Indian toilet.  In Taiwan you just squatted over a hole.  In France and India there is a porcelain place for your feet.  I guess the idea is that if you accidentally shit around your feet rather into the hole, it is easy to wash off the porcelain with the available hose.

And yes, the French toilets I have encountered had an available hose, just like the picture on G’man’s blog.  You’ve got a hole, a porcelain squatting plattform around the hole, and a hose to wash away any filth that didn’t get into the hole.

SO:  my story.

Eleven or twelve years ago:  my (then future) wife and I are hiking and hitchhiking through southern Spain.  We have a long day of hiking—too long, because it’s getting pretty dark when we arrive at a campground.  We start pitching the tent, but…I’ve got the urge.  Gotta go.

I head off to the toilet.  Turns out it’s a French toilet.  I’m not good at using French toilets.  First, you’ve got to do a flat-footed squat to do it right, and I can’t do a flat-footed squat.  Second, you’ve got to get your pants and underwear out of the way—you’ve got to get them out in front of the hole, so you don’t shit on them.

But we’d been hiking for several hours.  I was tired.  The easiest thing to do was to lean back against the back wall while squatting, so I could relax and shit and take a break.

So I did this.  I pulled my shorts and underwear down, squatted on the porcelain, and leaned my back against the wall, and shat.

BUT:  I heard a very loud metallic PLUNK.  I don’t shit metal, so I immediately got concerned.

I had placed my mini maglite in the back pocket of my cargo shorts, and my maglite had taken a dive into the French toilet.

It was now dark.

My wife had no flashlight.

I MUST retreive my Maglite.

I wipe my ass, look down into the hole.  I can see my flashlight floating in the waste about two feet down.  Decisions, decisions.  What to do?  I could reach down and grab the sonofabitch, but I would be smearing my arm with my own shit and reaching down into a small cesspool.  On the other hand, I’m in the bathroom:  I can go immediately to the shower and wash myself clean.  On the third hand, I have no soap and I’m tired and can you ever really get clean after intentionally sticking your arm down a French toilet?

I thought this:  flush the toilet, and the flashlight probably won’t go down.  Then I can stick my arm down into the less shitty French toilet and save the evening.

So I pulled the flush lever.

And my Maglite was gone forever.

So we had to pitch our tent in the dark, and in fact we had to camp for the next two weeks without a flashlight.

But at least I didn’t have to stick my arm down into a French/Indian toilet.

There is a moral to this story somewhere.

jj

Kickball

When I was a child growing up in Taiwan, we had a couple of games we played during recess at school. There were four-square and tether-ball and of course there were swingsets and a jungle gym. But the KING of games was kickball.

Last night was our Wednesday softball practice in the gym. Problem was, the other coach was sick—and he has the indoor softballs. One of the girls had a normal softball, which they used to warm up with a bit. But then it came time to actually do drills or something, and we only had one hard softball.

Somehow, out of the middle of nowhere, I got the idea to play kickball. So I explained the concept and we borrowed a half-empty soccer ball and we played kickball for nearly an hour.

Now, they may not have had fun.

But I did.

What a great game! We didn’t have but six people, so we only had two teams of three, which meant a LOT of running. For me—old man that I am—it’s nice to play something fun enough to make me move enough to make me sweat and pant and get my pulse racing (which COACHING softball doesn’t usually do).

I do know that some men my age have resurrected kickball and play it in leagues and such to get their excercise.

But what happened to tether-ball and four-square?

Anyone know?

jj (who—nastalgic, as always—thinks we would play those children’s games as adults.)

Mett

One of the jobs I started this week was in Northeim (pronounced “nord hime”).

I worked there last year. This year, I am always hungry. This is new for me. In the past I never had any appetite before 1 or 2 in the afternoon. BUT: I haven’t had any tobacco since my Gettysburg experience, and I am now STARVING in the mornings.

This is all an introduction to tell you about an experience last year in Northeim. Although I wasn’t hungry, I still needed my coffee. So each morning I went into the “cafeteria” of this small school. You’ve got to get the picture in your head to understand this story. This isn’t a real cafeteria: it’s just a room the size of a normal classroom, but they make coffee and sell waffles and sandwiches and such.

So I walk into this room to get my coffee and I see four tables set for guests, as if there was going to be a party or something. Each table was set for four or five people. Each table had a big plate in the middle, filled with Mett.

Apparently a group of manly men handworker types were going to have breakfast together. At least six or eight manly men handworker types were already there eating breakfast.

And they were eating Mett.

Again, each table had a plate of Mett in the middle. I estimated—and I think my estimate was probably pretty accurate—that each plate hat about five pounds of Mett on it. So there were four tables, each with a plate of five pounds of Mett. That’s 20 pounds of Mett for 15 to 20 manly men handworker types for breakfast.

What is Mett?

Mett is raw ground pork.

So thes manly men handworker types grab a breakfast roll, cut it in half, and smear raw ground pork onto it. And that is breakfast.

I watched one guy smear his roll with Mett and put a few sliced onions on it and squirt some ketchup on it.

I watched the guy, but bought my coffee and left without tossing my cookies.

Later I told the class what I had just seen. They all found it funny—though none of them would themselves have eaten such a breakfast. Some found it as disgusting as I did. But they told me that such a breakfast is called “Feurwehrmarmelade”.

Roughly translated: “Fireman’s Jam”.

I’d rather just have a cigarette.

jj (craving tobacco at the moment)

…not too sweet!

Germans generally pride themselves on liking things that are “not too sweet”. I find this strange. But even television commercials for snacks will say, “it’s delicious, and it’s not too sweet!” So being not too sweet is a selling point.

But yesterday, after taking my son to school, I decided to stop off at the bakery to buy my favorite item: a Kirschring (Cherry Ring). This wonderful, beautiful, delicious entry into the world of bakery items is hard to describe. It’s like a cream puff, but…sweeter. HA!

Picture it this way: take the puff pastry for a cream puff and cut in in half to make a sandwich. Then put a layer of cherry jam and a layer of whipped cream in the middle of the sandwich. Then GLAZE the top, like a glazed donut.

You heard me right. This is a glazed cream puff with cherry preserves and whipped cream in the middle. But…it’s not too sweet.

Bullshit.

I have a sweet tooth, and have no problems living in Germany. Sometimes I miss fajitas or a really good cheeseburger (though I can get a McDonald’s or Burger King cheeseburger here), but I never suffer for sweets.

If you go to the supermarket you’ll find something like 200 varieties of chocolate. I’m not kidding. 200 varieties of chocolate in a country of people who pride themselves in eating sweets that are not too sweet.

I think that I’ll eat a few cherry rings next week. A cherry ring a day keeps the cigarettes away.

But THAT is another post.

jj