July 7, 2010 by Kat Richter
Whilst schlepping from one time zone to another, there comes a time when you need to stop, take stock of your growing laundry pile and Do Something about It.
For me, the moment in question coincided with my return to England: the land of upright showers and, more importantly, Primark. I could wash my delicates but I would rather, for the sake of cultural immersion, just go shopping.
Having survived my blitz through Europe and caught the 12 o’clock Oxford Express back to London, I am feeling quite accomplished (and therefore deserving of another treat). Not that I have a proper job or a boyfriend of the happily-ever-after variety, not that I have a car or my own apartment or any of those things that normal people have to be proud of.
It’s better than all of that: I have reached a point where I can come to Europe and stay with friends. No more youth hostels for this jetsetter-in-training. No more guest houses in the middle of nowhere, or platform tents in downtown Munich (not that I minded the platform tent in downtown Munich, not which it’s guy-to-girl ration greatly skewed in my favor, but that’s another story for another time).
It’s the high life now: a proper suitcase, a matching shoulder bag and five pairs of shoes (and before you ask, yes, they are all necessary, even those that have afforded me four blisters and given my heels a rather uncanny resemblance to grated cheese).
The downside of having friends quite literally around the world is that I’m always missing at least one of them, no matter where I am. But feelings of displacement and existential crises aside, it is pretty damn fabulous to arrive in a foreign country without feeling entirely foreign.
At least so far as my accommodations are concerned. Matters of dishwashers, hair products and personal hygiene are an entirely different story.
You’ll have noted my excitement over returning to the land of the upright shower. Not that this marvel of modern engineering is the only thing I love about the UK, but it’s up there, right alongside the London Underground, Friday nights at the V&A, high street charity shops and Sainsbury’s mint chocolate.
When I arrived in Brussels and asked my hostess if it would be okay for me to take a shower after dinner, a dark shadow crossed her face.
“We don’t have a shower,” she informed me.
“Oh, right. A bath then?”
“We don’t have a bath.”
“Oh, right. Well…” My voice trailed off as I tried to be culturally sensitive—not having a shower is one thing but not having a bath? This was an international crisis in the making. There was time, not so very long ago, when I would have just squirted a dollop of Dr. Bronner’s all purpose eco-friendly soap into my palm and headed off to the nearest stream, but I didn’t have my Dr. Bronner’s this time, and as far as I could tell, there were no obliging streams to be found in the heart of Europe’s capital city.
“Relax!” my hostess interjected, “I was just kidding! Of course we have a shower. Belgium is not a third world country!”
She was right. Belgium is a very fine country but that doesn’t change the fact that Brussels, Lyon and dozens of cities throughout Europe have missed the memo about the upright shower. In most cases, I’m all for historic preservation, UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage initiatives and all that jazz but I draw the line at the wall-mounted shower head.
Stepping into the tub, turning on the faucet and attempting to shave my legs whilst not flooding the entire bathroom (no easy feat while you’re balancing on one foot, razor in one hand, washcloth and shower hose in the other), I couldn’t help but wonder: in the age of Bluetooth and hands free headsets why would anyone choose to live with a hands on shower?
I realize that hands on showers make perfect sense in bathrooms that were built before the dawn of the hands free era, but the friends I stayed with lived in perfectly modern buildings. I realize, in addition, that I’m taking a nineteenth-century Christian missionary’s approach to plumbing (You, heathens of the forest/bush/Amazon/Sahara, why do persist in worshipping your pagan gods when I have shown you the one true path to salvation?) but I’m still confused.
Does anyone actually prefer the tub and hose system? If you’re reading this and you are one such person, can you please explain to me how you’re supposed to shave your legs and hold the hose at the same time? Maybe I’m just too uncoordinated; maybe you have to grow up wobbling around like a soggy little tripod. This way, when you hit your teen years and you start shaving your legs, you’ve acquired the necessary skill set.
My ex-boyfriend’s flat in Hammersmith had, as far as I am concerned, the Greatest Shower Known to Man. Like your average American shower, it had wall mount. But like your average European shower, it also had a hose. This means that you could shower hands free or hands on: the best of both worlds (You, heathens of the United States, why do you persist in showering only with wall mounts when I have shown you the one true path to aquatic luxury?).
Someday, when I have a proper job, a proper boyfriend and a flat of my own (note I’ve not included a car on this list; have Villo’V—and Zipcar—will travel), I’m going to be sure that the shower is properly equipped with the hybrid model.