Swiss life: Ode to a toilet bowl

In The Falcon Flies Alone, Peppa seeks out a stranger in the Swiss city of Basel. Desperation sends her to the Mission in search of a man she only knows by name, Christian Engler. As she approaches the grand building, she narrates: My eyes were drawn to the roof with its clock tower, crowned by a bell, and guarded by the Evangelical cross on each side.  Two obsessions of the sober Swiss Protestant: God and clocks. All it needed was a bucket of scalding, soapy water to symbolize cleanliness, and the trinity would be complete.

Although these days, the Swiss are not known for church attendance, in the fifties religion played an important part. It wasn’t so much that there was a deep, mystical and fervent custom of worship, but that religion informed the notions of decency and obedience that were thought appropriate for young women. In that sense, Switzerland was similar to Ireland and most of the United States.

The obsession with punctuality and cleanliness though, is noteworthy. Swiss people still arrive on time; if they are early they will generally withdraw somewhere, in order not to be a nuisance, until the appointed minute has arrived. The desire for cleanliness is carried to extremes. For instance, cleaning your apartment yourself before you move out is not recommended. The agency your landlord hires will be checking places you never thought of. A covering of dust behind the wall radiator, or a lime build-up on the inside of your faucet will disqualify you from getting your full deposit.

Even more surreal is the—ahem—toilet situation. Restaurants and hotels feel it’s appropriate to post signs in the stall. This doesn’t just include obvious instructions, such as notifying the staff if there’s an unhygienic situation. Sometimes there are poems, or instructions about using a toilet brush, that I assume are meant to be funny. I’ve included an example from our community garden, which explains the correct usage of the brush. Scratching your head with it is completely wrong, brushing your private parts with it is somewhat incorrect, while crouching at the side of the bowl and assiduously scrubbing, is laudable.

A community garden is one thing, but when I see these types of signs posted in a nice restaurant, I’m actually left scratching my head (though not with the toilet brush.)

Go figure.

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