Travel tips

Culture Shock Italy: 'Low Sink in the Bathroom?'

When I was pregnant with my son, Mark, I was teaching a world geography course.  The lesson one day was about the Mediterranean region and I introduced the islands of Capri, Corsica, Elba, Ischia, Sardinia, and Sicily.  One of my students, who was also pregnant, asked me what I thought about Corsica as a name for a baby girl. I told her I thought it was a pretty name, but that I liked Sicily better. Fast forward about fourteen years. It’s the first day of school and I have a “Corsica” on my roll.  I asked the student if she knew how she got her name and she said her mother wanted to know if I still remembered.  Of course, I remembered!

I have never been to Corsica, but thanks to my EF tours, I have been to Sicily and Capri with my students.  Even after five different tours of Italy, including a Group Leader convention called “A Walking Tour of Tuscany” and a customized tour called “Ciao Time in Italy,” I still want to return to this country.

Trevi Fountain

Oleg Brovko/Via Flickr

Whenever I’m in Rome, I make it a point to toss two coins over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, one coin to make a wish to return and the other to make that wish come true. So far, it has worked.I would like to think that I do a pretty good job in preparing my students for any “culture shock” experiences through my pre-departure meetings and monthly letters. However, I overlooked something very important before I departed on my first tour to Italy.  On the morning after our arrival in Italy, one of my male students came into the breakfast room of the hotel and asked me, “Hey, Mrs. Ingram! What’s up with that low sink in the bathroom? I had to get on my knees to brush my teeth!” It took me a moment or two to realize that the student brushed his teeth in the bidet. I now make certain to have a lesson in international bathrooms before I take students overseas.

It can be rather indelicate, but I think teachers need to cover topics such as using different kinds of bathrooms and even “being regular” on tour. My own children used to cringe whenever I discussed these topics in our pre-departure meetings.  I’m not shy about discussing any tour-related topic with teenagers. Nothing puts me off. If you are planning to travel to Italy, here are some tips about bidets, bathrooms, and toilets:

  • Learn the real purpose of a bidet. It’s not an extra sink.
  • Don’t expect soft terrycloth towels in hotel bathrooms. They are more like dish towels, although the waffle-weave ones aren’t too bad.
  • Shower curtains may be nonexistent. Before you take a shower, rescue the toilet paper and put it outside the bathroom to keep it dry.
  • Know that “C” is not for cold water. “C” is for “caldo” (hot) and “F” is for “freddo” (cold).
  • Carry small packs of tissues in case there is no toilet paper.
  • Have 20-cent Euro coins available to pay for public toilets (or to tip the bathroom attendants).
  • Whenever you are in a museum, café, or restaurant, take the opportunity to go to the toilet, even if you think you don’t have to go.
  • If you can’t find a public toilet while touring, go to a fast-food restaurant or hotel lobby.  Act like a customer or guest.
  • Be prepared to use a squat toilet. They are usually more sanitary.
  • Learn to say, “May I go to the toilet, please?” in Italian (Posso andare al bagno per favore?) If you look desperate enough, your poor Italian may be excused.
  • Drink lots of water and eat some fruit while you are on tour.

By the way, Corsica graduated from high school in the same year as my son, Mark. She had one of the more interesting names in their class.  Maybe I should have consulted my geography textbook for a flashier name for my son—so many possibilities like “Gibraltar.”

Topics: Travel tips, Italy, Rome

Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

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