Toilets and sinks; sounds like a pretty basic concept, right? I mean, this seems easy enough… you go, you flush, you wash your hands, you leave. Alas, this basic function is one of the myriad things different from how things are done in the U.S.
The first time I went into a public toilet in Italy and turned to flush I had the following inner-monologue, “Okay, where is the little handle on the tank of the toilet? Actually, where IS the tank of the toilet?” Oh, I see, the flusher is on the wall; simple enough. Ummm, okay, what’s the difference between little button and the big button?”
A little later I finally decided not worry about looking stupid and asked my roommate what the difference in the button size was. She simply explained, “The big button is for a big flush. The small button is for a small flush.” Yeah, I felt stupid.
One of my favorite humiliating moments when I first got here was standing in front of a water faucet in a public washroom trying to figure out how to turn on the water to wash my hands. Because there were no handles to turn, I started waving my hands in front of anything I could think of to trigger any plausible infrared signal. So there I was in the middle of my “jazz hands” sequence when someone came out of a stall, walked to the sink, and stepped on a button on the floor to trigger the water. “Oooohhhhh!” I thought to myself while imitating the movement, “BRILLIANT IDEA! Why don't we do this in the U.S.?”
Another “fun” cultural difference to adjust to was the concept of a unisex bathroom. This is where men and women enter the same undesignated bathroom door into an area that provides a common sink to wash your hands and a common mirror to check yourself out. Although, generally, there are designated toilet stalls inside the room for men and women, there is nothing as startling as the first time you walk out of a stall and see a cute guy staring at you while you’re adjusting your outfit and picking the toilet paper off of your shoe.
Ahhhh, unisex bathrooms… just one more thing I will miss when I leave Italy. Hmmmm, maybe not.