22.03.2005 10:13 - Culture Shock
The following is somewhat scatalogical and so the more sensitive of you may wish to sit this one out.
When I first arrived in Germany in February 1999, I was hit by a profound case of culture shock. I hadn't been outside the UK very often, unless you count Wales as being a foreign country, which I don't. (Sorry, Plaid Cymru fans, but for all the welsh language signs you're still basically living a UK lifestyle not much different to those on the other side of Offa's Dyke.)
Upon arriving in Germany, I was picked up at the airport by Maria, the German/Italian secretary, who then took me to my temporary flat in Domstrasse.
And left me there. For the weekend. All alone. - Which in many ways, is the story of my life.
So, there I was, alone in a small 2m x 2m flat, with two cases full of clothes, three books and a Rickenbacker 350.
The first big shock was the kitchen, or rather lack of it. Many small German flats feature something called a "Köchniche". This is basically a very small, but functional kitchen, built into what would otherwise be a closet or broom-cupboard. This usually features a sink which is just about big enough to wash a mug in, two electric rings and a small refrigerator. This one also had a cupboard built in which meant to use the sink you had to stand at a very strange angle, or stand sideways, as I discovered when I attempted to make a cup of tea.
Next I discovered the Continental plumbing. Unlike the UK, where a sink has two separate taps - one hot, one cold - all German sinks and baths have one big mixer tap, and the mixer doesn't always work the way you think it would. In fact, German plumbing engineers seem to go out of their way to think up radical new designs of mixer tap in the hope of scalding foreigners. For example, the tap where left-right movement alters the mixture, and up-down the flow, or - and this is the killer one specially designed to lure unfortunate Brits - the one with two controls, which look as though they are hot and cold, but no, one regulates flow, and the other regulates mix between hot and cold - and it's always left on boiling hot.
My final case of culture shock came when entering the lavatory. Looking into the bowl, it was obvious that something wasn't quite right. Instead of the water that would normally be the recipient of a splashdown, covering the offending article and preventing the smell from escaping, there was a large expanse of porcelain, with a small hole filled with water at the front. Upon use, it became obvious that it was some sort of inspection shelf.
Fortunately, since the design of the inspection shelf, cooler heads have prevailed and more modern facilities feature a water closet that isn't much different from the traditional English design. However, it is often the case that the traveller will be met with one of the inspection shelf-style installations.
My advice to you is to put the lid down first before flushing.