Monday, November 10, 2008

Bottoms Up

by Andrew

Travelers soon learn that the biggest differences among cultures usually concern food: what we eat, how we eat it, and--once the fun is over--how we handle what comes out the other end.
Each culture tackles the final curtain in its own inimitable way. Believe it or not, a museum in Buenos Aires is devoted to different types of toilet. No doubt, we will be visiting soon.

Graham's voyage of cultural discovery began soon after we arrived at our hotel in Panama. Attached to the wall next to the toilet was a small hand-held shower, not dissimilar to the sprayers found on kitchen sinks. Since there was neither a shower nor a sink anywhere nearby, Graham's keen detective skills smelled a rat. Before we could even unpack, he demanded an explanation of its use.

Trying to escape a potentially grim conversation, I tersely explained that the spray hose was a poor man's bidet, for use on the toilet itself. This was a dumb strategy on my part, since Graham wouldn't know a bidet from a good day. I was immediately put me in the unenviable position of having to explain to my children the finer points of this most un-American device.

I used only the most delicate language and avoided all scatological humor. When I had finished, Katharine gave a slightly horrified laugh and skipped out of the bathroom. Graham, on the other hand, had contracted a strange, almost feverish glitter in his eye that should have given me pause.

The next morning, Graham quickly disappeared into the bathroom on the pretext of washing his feet, which smelled like a landfill. He re-emerged 15 minutes later without saying a word. The only sign that something was amiss was the fact that the back of his shirt and head were sopping wet. Katharine, who had been waiting for the bathroom, reported that the floor was flooded.

I turned to Graham, one eyebrow cocked in interrogatory fashion.

"What on earth were you doing in there?" I asked.

"I used the bidet shower," replied Graham nonchalantly.

"But that's for your bum, Graham," I said. "Your back and head are soaked, and it looks as if a monsoon just hit the bathroom. How did you manage that?"

"I missed," he replied.

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