The Great Cultural Divide
They talk about people from different cultures having different food, clothing, ceremonies, languages, even events. One thing they do not often talk about is, different bathroom habits. Now anyone who has travelled will be nodding their head knowingly, having flashbacks to some ‘hole in the floor’ toilet in some country that at the time seemed a long, long way from home and our tiled, flushable, western urinary waste systems.
I have used such toilets and have developed many coping mechanisms for enduring the experience. But every now and then you let your guard down. Every now and then you find yourself faced with some bathroom situation of which you were totally unprepared. I found myself in this situation whilst backpacking in Europe.
After a long and arduous train trip through the German countryside and then a confusing trip on Berlin’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn, I arrived at my large hostel, more than ready for a long wash. After visiting the ladies bathroom, and being impressed with the toilets, I returned with my toiletries and towel, ready for a hot, refreshing shower. I rounded the corner to the shower area, and came face to face with breasts, bottoms, and, for the sake of keeping things PG, front bottoms. These body parts were being lathered, scrubbed, towel dried and sprayed. It was a communal shower. Seven shower heads in one room.
I almost ran out, screaming back to my room, but realised 5 days in Berlin was a long time to go without showering. I wondered if I should return at 3am, to guarantee empty showers. Having an empowering moment, I told myself, just get on with it, you can do this! Next thing I knew, along with 2 French and 3 Korean ladies, I was showering, stark naked and jiggling.
It is amazing what the brain does to help us cope with confronting situations. Somehow I convinced myself that as I was not looking at any of their body bits (as my face was firmly planted against the wall), they were not looking at mine. I then reasoned, well, it’s lucky I just spent a week in the Croatian sunshine, I have such a tan! And we all look better with a tan… oh no! The exact body parts I want to hide have absolutely no tan! And now are standing out like white rabbits in dazzling headlights.
The European women are much better at being nude in front of each other than many of their western counterparts. I have never been comfortable stripping down in front of other women, strangers or otherwise. Maybe it was my upbringing, or my high school, or society at the time, but my teenage years were spent hiding behind towels and change room doors.
I do feel like I rose to the challenge in that Berlin shower and faced one of my fears, public nudity. I did find a great way to help overcome nude fears whilst staying there – have a shower, in the nude, with a killer hangover! You won’t care who sees you when you have nausea and a migraine! Out of my entire overseas adventure, the communal shower was one of my most confronting. After checking out (still with hangover) I felt elated, ready to face the (nude) world!