Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Plumbing and Other Everyday Observations – Erich

I have no doubt my readers have come to depend on my deep and insightful posts that elucidate the human condition around the world. Each new entry is a gem of inspiration and illumination. And it is with bated or otherwise foreshortened breath that the wide audience awaits the next drop of pure truth to precipitate from my virtual inkwell.

Bad news. This post probably won't live up to those standards.

But it is looking at some of the everyday household fixtures and how they compare or contrast with those in the United States.

Let's start with plumbing. In the United States, you flush a toilet with a handle, usually on the side of the tank. Oh, not so in Africa or Europe. At least not as we have seen. They are almost all flushed by means of a button one depresses. (Though we have seen some where you pull up on a short rod, and even a couple with a tank up high and you pull on a chain to flush.)

What's more, most toilets have two buttons or one button with two parts. The larger part makes a larger flush (for your larger waste.) The smaller button saves water with a smaller flush for those times that the waste is only liquid.

Of course, I have seen those rarely in the U.S., but in Africa and Europe, that is the norm.

Showers are also different so far as we have seen. In South Africa we had a shower much like those in the States. By this I mean, the shower head was affixed to a pipe coming out of the wall somewhere above our heads. This was also the case in Namibia, though in Namibia we were not in a home. We were traveling from campsite to campsite.

But in Morocco and in all of Europe, the affixed to the wall above your head shower is not common. Instead, people seem to favor the shower head on a flexible hose that can be moved around your body. There is usually a place you can rest the shower head that is up high, so you can use it as we do as well. Though I rather like the moving the water to me rather than the moving me to be under the water. It is much more efficient.

Another item we don't see in the U.S. is the bidet. In Morocco and in some places in Europe, but not all, this bathroom convenience is all too common. It would hardly be a bathroom without one. (Though in all honesty, this is not a bathroom convenience of which I have as of yet ever availed myself.)

Here in Turkey, there are bidets, but not separate bidets. Rather, the bidet is sort of built into the toilet. There is a nozzle that sticks out from the back side of the porcelain rim of the toilet, just under where the back of the seat would be. And there is a faucet on the wall you can twist (again I have not tried doing so) to make the water spray from that nozzle. Two in one.

Looking at other appliances, while clothes washing machines are common, dryers are almost unseen. Why use a dryer when you can use the sun? This was certainly the case, even in the UK, where there was no guarantee that there would be sun.

Moving to utensils and tools, do you know what common household item is actually completely uncommon, or so it has been in our travels? A can opener. Every place we go we rent self-catering apartments. This means all the normal necessities will be there. There should be plates, bowls, glasses, forks, knives, spoons, and all the things you need to cook. Yeah, good luck. Don't count on measuring spoons or cups, don't count on baking dishes, and definitely don't count on can openers! Nobody seems to have can openers.

We've basically learned not to buy any canned food. Yes, we could buy our own can opener, but every little thing we add to our stuff is some other little thing we have to carry on our backs as we move from one place to another.

Electrical outlets are not consistent around the world. South Africa has its own standard of three round pins, one of which is of greater diameter than the other two. This standard is matched by no one else except Namibia. But even there, many appliances in South Africa and Namibia have plugs designed for European outlets, so converters are common.

All of Europe (but not the U.K.) uses the same two pin outlet as the rest of Europe (but not the U.K.) Both Morocco and Turkey use these same outlets. The U.K. uses a three pin outlet, but the pins are flat rectangular pins.

If you are going on a world trip, buy at least one universal outlet converter. (Though even these are not actually universal. We had to get a separate one for South Africa. And when we go to India, we will need to get one specific to their electrical system as well.)

I'm sure Asia will offer more new experiences when it comes to plumbing and household appliances. Already here in Turkey (and occasionally in Morocco) we have come across the Eastern Style toilet. My understanding is that in Asia these are going to be more common that our Western Style toilets. We'll see.

An Eastern Style toilet is at ground level, there is nothing to sit upon. You straddle the hole, (there are textured sides so as to provide a nice non-slip surface), squat, and do your business. If you are male and you are urinating, this is no big deal, just a matter of aiming differently. But in all other cases, this is a bit harder an adjustment to make.

I know some of these observations are mundane. But it's life. And life is in the everyday as much as it is in the extraordinary. That's a big part of what we are trying to learn about the world, its hardware, and the people who use it. How they live is part of who they are.

See, there's the drop of wisdom. Dripping right into that unfamiliar plumbing.


  1. so many memories. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Those stories of the "mundane" are the most interesting I find. I remember a shower in Honduras that surprised me by having a heater attached just above the shower head. You had to be quite exact in water control to get the water to heat up (and you knew you were at the right spot if the rest of the lights dimmed in the room). A note for Asia--you may be able to find western style restrooms in public areas if you ask (and tip) the right person.

    1. Thanks for the information. It will be good to know.