Never trust an Espresso

One theme that has many variations is the toiletry one. In essence it’s easy, everyone inserts food, so everyone will have to manage their output at some point. Although the toilet bowl itself and the basic procedure is roughly the same everywhere, everything around it is shrouded in a cloud of taboo. Or a cloud of poo smell for that matter. Naturally different cultures handle things a bit differently.

The first story takes place at Mount Etna on Sicily. On a bike packing trip through, you guessed it, Italy we (Manuel and I) tackled the mighty Mount Etna. I say mighty, because it’s an active volcano and it does not leave that unnoticed. As you get closer to the summit, the occasional rumbling get’s louder and louder. Because it’s a fairly long climb, starting at sea level, finishing at nearly 2000 meters, the rumbling sounds very distant at first. Initially I thought it was construction work, but as I got closer and noticed the plume of smoke I started to realise it was the actual volcano. The climb itself is amazing, as te scenery keeps changing throughout. At first there’s many trees and a couple of villages (who wants to live there?!). As you get higher the trees disappear and make place for minor shrubberies with many colourful flowers. On the second half there are several remnants of past eruptions, which don’t always take place from the top, but often also from the flanks of the mountain. Near the top there’s only black rocks and no vegetation at all. The only thing that grows at this place is the amount of tourist traps and restaurants and as you do after a long climb we had drinks there. As it’s Italy this included an espresso. What we did not know that point is that this particular espresso was inspired by the rumbling Mount Etna and its contends were like magna to our insides and like Mount Etna, an eruption was imminent.

The purpetrator

As the pressure was clearly building and I sat down in the cubical to relief the pressure I had a revelation. I looked around and to my horror found out that there was no toiletpaper. I walked back to the bar and asked the staff for some of those valuable rolls. Here you have to understand that this is Sicily. The woman I asked agreed she’d get some. She walked towards the back and shouted: ,, Giulia, where is the toilet rolls? ‘’ Then after a couple of minutes I watched Giulia walk the other way and ask Alessandro the same. The next couple of minutes nothing seemed to happen, after which Alessandro magically turned up with the rolls. As this had now turned into a social event, all of us walked to the toilets to restock, but when we got to the cubical we found it was locked. I’m not sure how long it took, but it felt like -again- several minutes passed until after some fumbling the door opened. Suddenly we found ourselves in a very interesting situation covered by an awkward silence. Everyone in the room knew perfectly well about the situation and the smell quite clearly gave away the poor guy didn’t only wanted to sit down. 

It’s not easy getting some T.P. in Italy…

I am imagining that as he finds the ‘remnants of a past eruption’ during next laundry day it will not only remind him of a great day at Mount Etna he’ll contemplate on a couple of the life lessons learned at this ordeal. Some lessons we get to learn for ‘free’. The first one is to never trust an espresso. We’ve also learned that shouldn’t only look left and right before crossing a street, but in every situation where shit might hit the fan. Perhaps the most interesting about the whole situation is the cultural connotation. As the situation reached the climax and all the people in the room looked at each other not a single word was spoken. It was clear what had happened ,the level of embarrassment was palpable and it as the poor guy quickly walked and everyone left it at that. In another culture I experienced the reaction could not be more different. Unfortunately for me, I am the victim in the next story.

Cycling through the USA is different from everywhere else I’ve ridden. The stereotype about everything being bigger applies to a lot, but especially to the gaps between towns. So when you come at a civilised place you take care of things, get food and drinks, but also get rid of ‘previously enjoyed food and drinks’. Sometimes it would be at a McDonald’s restaurant, sometimes there’d only be a gas station convenience store. It is such a striking paradox that I’m putting in a lot of effort to cycle across a nation build on convenience. Even the restroom locks are build for convenience. There is a little thing on the door handle to lock the door, which automatically unlocks as soon as you try to open the door from the inside. As a reflex I always check if I locked the door after I enter a restroom, by checking if I can open the door. As I just presented you with a 1 + 1, you might guess what have happened there.

Some restrooms are just different.

,,Jesus Christ!! Can you believe it?! The guy didn’t lock the fucking door! Oh my God, can you believe it?!’’ Was the slightly less subtle reaction from the man, let’s call him Donald, that discovered my mistake. Whereas during the situation on Sicily there were at least twice as many people involved, the embarrassment stayed under those in the room. I very much writing about this from my perspective, both during the situation, but also while reflecting on it, where my point of view is from Dutch cultural background. Whereas Donald walking in on me reacted with his American cultural upbringing.

I’m aware that this one person is not representative for the entire United States of America, but his reaction opposed to the reaction of the people on Sicily is very interesting. On Sicily it was very much de-escalating, it happened and it’s done. Donald totally escalated the situation. It happened, but it was not done, in fact every single person had to know about it. As I am writing about he may as well still be talking about that one day. But why? I feel it has to do with an individual sharing his individual experiences, without caring too much about the other individual. Which is quite paradoxical, since the sharing is social, his reaction was anti-social to me. I suspect it’s also a way of putting himself above another: ,, look, this person has done a stupid thing ( I would never do such a thing ), can you believe it?’’ Or it might in fact be very different yet again. Maybe in Donald his mind he is the victim and this is his way to make him feel better. Again a very individual approach I’d say, but who am I with my ‘fancy’ European cultural roots? All I know is my reaction was the same as the poor guy in Italy, I bolted as quickly and quietly as possible. In the end the result may actually be that Donald made everyone’s day -except mine- a bit better by sharing his experience. Let’s hope he put in on Instagram.