Expat Life

Immersed in Confusion

living in ireland, immersion, bathroom
Fact: You could be an incredibly intelligent person, but when you attempt to use a bathroom that you aren’t familiar with, you turn into a desperate idiot.
I think we’ve all been there, whether we have traveled to a foreign country, or even just stayed over at a friends house and used their toilet or shower for the first time.  What is this hose for?  The toilet seat is missing?  What happens if I pull that string? Why is the hot water not coming out hot? What’s that other smaller, lower sink for?  Why are there so many buttons and levers on the shower?  Wait, why did they put that there, that’s not where that goes! 
Foreign Bathroom - Living in Ireland
I remember my days as a tour leader, talking about the mysteries of the hotel bathroom were almost a daily discussion.  Nothing confuses American tourists more than the European bathroom!  Many awkward situations popped up – a couple times I even had to go into a guest’s hotel bathroom and show them which 2 levers (there were about 10 in this “ultra modern” shower in a fancy hotel) gave them warm water in their shower, while she stood there in her towel nearly crying over her frustration of not being able to figure out how to turn on her shower.  And how many times I was asked the question “But, how do you use the bidet? Face forward or backwards? Can you show us?”  There was the big, tall football player who could literally only fit one leg at a time in the tiny shower.  There was this other lady who couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower in the luxurious 5-star hotel in southern Italy because it was so complicated, so she washed her hair in the sink and washed the rest of herself in the bidet! And every single week, at least once, the person who pulled on the emergency cord in the bathroom (by law, there has to be one in every public bathroom in Italy), thinking it was a clothesline, or a toilet flusher, or a light switch, when in fact it was an alarm notifying someone in reception that this person needed help, which led to very embarrassing “rescues”. 
I think by now I have experienced every kind of shower, bathtub, toilet and miscellaneous bathroom feature that exists.  And do you know which one has stumped me the most?  The Irish Bathroom.  It has completely defeated me and left me feeling totally stumped.
The first time I used a shower in a house in Ireland, I had no idea what I was doing.  I asked my future sister in law if it was ok if I could take a shower now.  
“Of course you can – just turn on the immersion.” 
“Ok, right.” I replied.  Immersion? Why does that sound so intimidating?  Am I being immersed into something? Is that like a special bathtub? I was too embarrassed to admit I had no clue what she was talking about so I went upstairs and asked my then-boyfriend.
“Babe.  What the hell is an immersion, and why do I need one for a shower?”
“You just turn it on so the water can get hot.” he replied, as if it was the most obvious thing ever.
“Like, how do you mean? So the water isn’t just hot already?” Total confusion.
“No you have to turn it on.”  And he walked to a closet in the hallway (another new word I learned – this is called a hot press, not a closet) and there was a water heater type thing with a switch thingy on it.  He flicked the switch and told me to wait about 20 minutes.  I looked at him like he had to be joking – you mean there’s a finite supply of hot water? I felt guilty for even having a shower, like I was using a precious resource of some kind.  
living in ireland, immersion, bathroom

God forbid you leave this on when you leave the house.

I had my shower, got ready to leave the house and I got a “you turned off the immersion, right?” from the boyfriend. 
“No. Was I supposed to? Shouldn’t we just leave it on so that there is always hot water?”
Jesus woman are you MAD!” And up he sprinted upstairs to turn it off.
The stand-up comedian Des Bishop has a hilarious stand up routine where he described his first encounter with the immersion, perfectly summing up hilarious confusion I felt.  Ah Des, yes, I totally get it now.
Now that I live in Ireland, I live in a house that has one of these doo-hickies.  Both my now fiancΓ© and I completely forgot about it.  Even though he knows how one works, he had lived outside Ireland for years, and it was a fairly new concept to me, so when we moved in, we turned it on and accidentally forgot about it for weeks.  You know who didn’t forget though?  Bord Electric, the utility company.  They were kind enough to remind us by sending us a whopping €350 bill. Thanks, guys!
I still forget sometimes, one and a half years later. I either forget to turn it off (I’m better about that now), or worse, I forget to to turn it on overnight and have the pleasure of having a freezing cold shower in the morning.  IT. ALWAYS. WINS.  I will never beat the immersion, it will always outsmart me!
Another thing that stumps me (and other foreign visitors to Ireland) is having two separate taps in the sink.  One for cold water, and one for hot water.  The only thing these two taps have in common is that they are really really close to the sink itself so that when you are washing your hands with either freezing or scalding water, you are also rubbing your hands up against the sink and getting soap everywhere.  For a while every time I did this, I felt like Mr. Bean, making a mess of the simplest things.
living in ireland, bathrooms in ireland

Like, why?

The last thing that totally confuses me about Irish bathrooms: There are no electric outlets in the bathrooms.  The hotels have them, but not in a private home.  This means that I have dried my hair with a blow drier in every room in the house, minus the room that is intended for getting ready.  This is the one thing that has actually made me get into arguments with people in Ireland because it makes me take a very defensive stance as a proud American.  When I have mentioned this to people here, their response is always the same:
“Yea, we don’t have them in the bathrooms because it’s dangerous.” 
*slaps forehead* Sigh.
“No, it’s not dude.” I say every time.
“Nooooo but it is!”
“How is it dangerous? Explain it to me then.”
“Because you could electrocute yourself. There’s water in the bathroom!”
“Yea, there’s also water in the kitchen and that room has water too!”
“It’s still dangerous.”
“It’s NOT. In every other country, people have electricity in their bathrooms and somehow manage just fine.  I’m pretty sure we can manage to not electrocute ourselves! I think we all know how electricity and water don’t mix, right?”
And you know what? I never win this argument.  They look at me like I’m a sociopath who wants to burn my house down.  You can be the most open-minded, accepting person, move to a new country, and even have zero expectations or standards about how something “should” be, but it all comes down to this – there is no point in trying to fight it.  My way is not the right way, and neither is theirs. It’s just different and if anything, makes for a hilarious conversation piece and material for this blog, right?
Sigh, again.  It’s nothing that an extension cord strategically placed down the hall can’t fix. Or bribe an electrician with a €50 and ask him to just put an outlet in there, for crying out loud.
American girl moves to Ireland. Gets herself into a crazy mix of culture shock and misunderstandings. Hilarity ensues.  

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  • Reply
    Arash B
    July 30, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Love this post Bea. I had no idea about the Irish bathrooms and the challenges they present. I’ve dealt with squat toilets in the Middle East and there’s nothing too confusing about those!

    • Reply
      July 30, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Haha… yea I’d say those are pretty self explanatory. πŸ™‚ Or the ones in South East Asia with their special method for “flushing”. πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Great post Bea – get a timer for the immersion. it works a treat!!

    • Reply
      July 30, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      I know, we keep saying we have to do that. D’oh!

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I have totally pulled the cord. Luckily I found the button that turned the alarm off very quickly. Also, our switch is always “on” in the bathroom. It’s been on for 3 months. Is this bad?

    • Reply
      July 30, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      ummm… It might be bad. Like Amanda said in an earlier comment, I think I need to get a timer to sort out my forgetfulness πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi
    July 30, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Yes!! I actually made my husband try out the bidet & report back I was so curious!
    You need to go to Japan & try their loos πŸ˜‰

    • Reply
      July 30, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      I gotta be honest. I miss having a bidet, they’re awesome! And I have been dying to go to Japan, I heard that everything in Japan just blows your mind πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    August 2, 2015 at 7:07 am

    Bea! What a delightful post!

    • Reply
      August 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks Michelle! xx

  • Reply
    August 3, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I remember being short excited about having a bidet in our hotel rooms in Europe…not that I used it more than once. I just remember the showers being soooo small. We are spoiled here. Its kind of ridiculous.

    • Reply
      August 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      We are very spoiled in the US, so much space we hardly know what to do with all of it!

  • Reply
    August 3, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Oh the joys of other’s water closets! Taking a “shower” in Austria was more of “lets sop the whole bathroom because we don’t have shower curtains and the drain is in the middle of the floor” event. No electeical outlets in there for sure. Not to mention the washer is so hot, it strips all your clothes of its color!

  • Reply
    August 6, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Hi Beach! I moved to Cork from Texas a month ago and just finally moved into an apartment own. I was Googling if I should leave the immersion on overnight as I have gas heating that relies on it. Anyway, first found Des’ video and then your post. Right. On. Hoping to keep up with your blog!

    • Reply
      August 6, 2015 at 12:38 am

      So, the swiping feature and auto correct on my new mobile stink. Sorry about the autocorrect of your name!! And any other typoes. πŸ™

    • Reply
      August 6, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      Haha… Oh autocorrect. Leaving it on overnight is the right thing to do (it’s cheaper too) and then leave it off if you’re gone during the day. I think. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Cory Hanson
    August 9, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    We had our own fun struggle getting acquainted with our Irish bathroom. How we miss always-available hot water and outlets for a hairdryer and a radio in the bathroom! Great post πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      August 9, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks Cory! Yea the electric outlets confuse me the most. I don’t unerstand why they are considered dangerous, but ‘electric showers’ are a thing here?? I hope someone can explain that to me one day πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    May 8, 2016 at 9:47 am

    I recently moved to Ireland. The only other bathroom types I have spent my life in are Indian and American. What I don’t like about the Irish apartments is that, they keep the smallest bathroom in the main bedroom and the bigger one as common. And the smallest bathroom is equipped with a stand in shower, which is the least comfortable of it all. I mean, what is it with the semi circle structures? You can’t bend down and take soap/shampoo, etc without your butt hitting the door behind you, ending up opening it. And those teeny tiny sinks. We can’t even do a quick face wash in them without messing up the whole area around it. The tubs with those half glass swinging screen(??) for cover is another example of terrible design.

    If I plan to buy a home in Ireland, I will rather buy a land and construct a home to my liking.

    • Reply
      February 2, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      Being on the verge of buying a home in the near future, I have to agree. I’d like to build a bathroom to my liking, the tiny showers in Europe make me crazy. They do the trick, but I am 5’10” and all elbows. πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    September 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Love it! And girl, from one foreigner living in Ireland to another – in Germany we do have outlets in the bathroom as well. I have the same argument even a year after moving here and sometimes I actually have to explain what I mean when I say “outlet”

    • Reply
      February 2, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      I know, the bathrooms here do create a lot of discussion among foreigners. They are just strange to me!

  • Reply
    December 7, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    It is completely possible to have sockets in the bathroom in Ireland – they just need to be >3m away from the “wet” zone. A lot of electricians don’t know about this, and – most of the time – the bathroom is too small to allow for this anyway. But it’s not impossible.


  • Reply
    December 8, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Argentinian living in Ireland… for the love of me I cannot get these bathrooms! I won’t say anything about bidets which I miss like crazy, but outlets!? I have to straighten my hair in my son’s room and epilate wherever I can (might get a cordless epilator when this one breaks so I can do it in the bathroom like God intended).
    And try bathing a baby in Ireland… our home has 2 bathrooms (one smaller than the other) no tub in either of them and barely enough room to fit a baby tub on the floor in one of them! I love Ireland, but whoever designed the bathrooms just hated everyone.

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