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!
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.
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 fiancé 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.
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.