When abroad in a major city in the westernized world, you may never see anything out of the ordinary other than the language: Starbucks, McDonald’s, souvenir shops, Toyotas, fanny packs – some things are always the same.
But you always know that you’re not at home when you see the toilet.
It is the one thing that, without fail, makes you realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Whether there’s a big button, little button, wide rim, tiny rim, back shelf, front shelf, little water, no water, squat hole, dirt hole, or you can see the train tracks flying underneath you, it’s all the same — the realization that when answering nature you’re on a very, very long-distance call.
After being immersed in der Vaterland, I realize just how extremely different our two cultures are. Women, for example, do not pinkeln all over the seats. A detail that 49% of the American population never, ever thinks about, but it means the world to the other 51%. As a scientifically-trained person with a small bladder, having to pee at a bar or restaurant has always been a source of extreme psychological trauma. A potential gateway to disease. And an extra 45-60 seconds of bladder-ific agony while you dance around on one foot trying to extract the flimsy Neat Seat from the cardboard holder, inevitably ripping it right down the middle so you have to start all over.
… only to find out that your Neat Seat is “eco friendly,” which means that it does absolutely nothing as your butte hits that soaked rim the last stranger has hovered over, your bare skin baptized by that wet, cold and potentially disease-laden kiss.
Wouldn’t it just be nice to be somewhere where people mutually respect each other, where our compatriots are considerate about shared space? While in Deutschland I’ve discovered time and time again (roughly once every 4 hours) that that there are places in the world where people hold themselves accountable for their actions, and respect the person who inevitably comes next.
The act of travel expands your horizons and introduces you to new words, new people, new routines and the nuances of things that you never before realized you considered normal. And sometimes it awakens you to certain normalities of home that you can live without.
Respect. Somehow, that seems a little too much to ask.