Culture shock can include the obvious like language, food and climate as well as the more advanced (for me), like toilets.
Moving to Japan was the fourth time I had lived (or tried to) like a local in a new country. The first was Finland for a university exchange. Much later was volunteering in rural Thailand for three months and basing myself at a friend’s apartment in Australia for three months.
In just under a year, I lived in Thailand and Australia and moved to Japan. In between Australia and Japan, I spent a month at an ecovillage in Canada, in the middle of reverse culture shock, supporting international volunteers. My decisions meant a lot of packing up and moving and adjusting.
By the time I got to Japan, I felt like nothing would surprise me. I knew the language would be different and, following my usual approach (not recommended), I didn’t learn anything first. I already had an idea about the food and I’m not usually food phobic. My only condition is I won’t eat insects unless they are ground up. Squat toilets don’t bother me and after Thailand, I preferred them. I’d already survived aching heat and humidity so that was not a concern and I was an expert in snow and cold. What was left to muddle through?
Two things: toilets (of the seated variety) and work (a future post).
This was the toilet in my first apartment in Japan. I noticed it was plugged into the wall and found this intriguing. I noticed the panel on the side but couldn’t read anything and thought it was best to leave it alone. I’m the curious type though and a few months later, I felt courageous enough to press some buttons.
I thought standing beside the toilet was the best way to investigate because I could have an unobstructed view.
I pressed a button, heard some whirring and water entered the toilet bowl. Next, a narrow, metal arm gradually extended forward from under the back of the toilet seat. I saw a little nozzle on the end of the rod and then whoosh!
A determined and laser-focused jet of water shot out of the end of the arm and began spraying the wall across from the toilet with surprising intensity.
My only reaction was panic so I tried to reach over the jet of water showering my wall to push buttons – any buttons! Varying forces of the concentrated stream continued soaking the flimsy wall, floor and me, since there was no way to reach the buttons while avoiding the water.
The toilet showed no indication of surrender so I did the only thing I could and unplugged it.
I suffered through the entire winter without a heated toilet seat and only plugged the toilet back in when I moved out.
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Have you had an unusual or unexpected experience living or travelling in another country (or even your own)?