It's amazing how we can miss the obvious just because we fail to ask the right questions. Sometimes our preconceived notions and perceptions of other cultures blind us to the obvious.
When Mary and I were dating, we planned to go backpacking throughout Europe as soon as I was done with my tour of duty with the Wienermobile. In the summer of '95 we spent eight weeks backpacking around Europe. As part of our planning efforts we read up on our destinations with the aid of several tour books. One that proved particularly helpful was Rick Steve's Europe Through The Backdoor. This book was filled with great cultural insight and cheap suggestions on meals, tours and accommodations.
I remember reading a section on the various bathroom options available throughout Europe and found some very humorous and others downright amazing. The book included photos of toilets from different countries with explanations on how to use them. Some required money to use while others stood out because they had different ways to flush. One that struck me as particularly odd was a photo of a hole in the floor with two raised areas for your feet to rest on. There was nothing to sit on at all. I laughed out loud when I saw this, but soon realized that this was good information and would help me be prepared in case I ever encountered such a situation.
About four weeks into our travels we visited the Italian hillside town of Perugia. At this point I had already seen several examples of the toilets described in Mr. Steve’s book. At the train station in Nice, France I even encountered the one with the raised foot areas and hole in the floor. I passed on using it.
Well, nature called as soon as we arrived at our youth hostel in Perugia. The bathroom seemed ordinary at first. This one in particular had private stalls with doors and a bowl which closely resembled the type of toilet we would normally encoutner back in the states. The difference was that this appeared to be a slightly different version with no flip up lid. And no, this was not a bidet, it was a toilet.
I really needed to use the toilet and did not have too much time to ponder my situation. I needed to go quickly. If I were at home in the U.S. I would have approached this task sitting down. Seeing as there was no seat and remembering the various toilets I had read about in the book, I thought that I had encountered a new variety of European toilet. I figured that I was about to have a new potty experience.
So I did what I had to do. (to be continued...)