Today, we’re going to talk about toilets in Germany. Again. Now, since I’ve already blogged once for you guys about German attitudes to toilets, you’d be well within your rights to ask whether I’m some kind of faeces-freak: and the answer is no, I’m not crazy about toilets; but the Germans certainly are.
So, you’ve been warned. If you’ve got a weak stomach, you may want to stop reading now. If, however, you don’t want to be surprised and confused when you use a German toilet for the first time, then you might as well sit tight and read on while we, er, plumb the depths of everyday German living.
Not that we’re going that deep. The subject of today’s toilet-related excursion is in fact quite shallow: we’re talking what’s known in waste management as “reverse bowl design”. Reverse bowl design – or, to save my wrists, RBD, is where the toilet bowl contains a ledge onto which faecal matter lands before being swept down into the drain by the flush. Can’t quite imagine it? Never seen one before? Don’t worry, that’s normal.
After all, this toilet shape is unknown in almost every part of the world except Germany and, so I’m told, the neighbouring Netherlands. I’d certainly never come across it before living here, and whenever I get visitors from back in the UK, they always ask the same question after their first trip to our flat’s lovely green porcelain receptacle: “So Brian, tell me: what’s going on with these toilets?”
It’s a valid question. For those of us brought up in countries where we, ahem, drop our kids straight off into the pool, it’s quite a shock when we realise that the little blighters are still splashing around in the changing rooms after we leave. Not only a shock, it has a mildly unpleasant fascination: “So that’s what my crap looks like?”
The unpleasant fascination is, in most cases, immediately followed by an even more unpleasant realisation: “My crap really stinks that bad? I mean, I knew I didn’t smell of roses or nothin’, but goddamm!” Don’t worry, it’s not that you’re suddenly very ill and in need of a colonic; the problem is pure physics: when shit doesn’t immediately hit water, it hits the fan and smells monolithically disgusting. For a country that produced Einstein, this is a surprising lapse in basic knowledge that has horrific consequences on a day-to-day level.
Then again, if you talk to Germans about their RBD-toilets, they’ll point out the advantages in that matter-of-fact and direct way that only Germans can manage when talking about excretion. What are these advantages? Well, if you’ve got kids and they’ve swallowed something, you can check their “leavings behind” (this is a loan-translation of one of the best German words for poo: Hinterlassenschaften) to see whether it came back out. Or if you accidentally swallow your wedding ring, you’ll have ample opportunity to search for it. At this stage I would like to briefly point out that my acquaintance does not, to my knowledge, contain international drug runners.
The main reason, however, as far as most of my German friends are concerned, is that you get to have a good look at your faeces before they go down the hatch. “Why would you want to do that?” I ask; the answer is, typically in this country that gave the world Aspirin and the idea of employee health care, “so you can keep an eye on your health.”
Now, as a regular consumer both of beetroot and of German delicacies involving pigs’ blood, I’m quite used to slightly abnormal faeces; but I have to say that they have a point. When things really don’t look ship/t-shape, you’re generally ill. I know what my stuff mostly looks like, and when it’s not quite the same as usual, it often tallies with a slight cold or a bit of stress or similar. I can also recognise other afflictions – like hangovers, for example.
Having said that, I could do that back in the UK without having to render the toilet utterly unusable for several hours: you can just feel whether you drank too much or not. You also know when you’ve got a stomach-bug quite well enough without RBD (or, as I like to call it, “the ledge”).
So although I generally salute Germans’ interest in their health – and their no-nonsense relationship with the toilet – this is one area of daily life out here that I’m just not convinced about.