One day I did something bad. I did it in Italy, where many nice people do bad things because the red tape of their infamous bureaucracy leaves them no choice. But I had a choice, and it did not involve bureaucracy. It involved a toilet. A high class, pristine toilet, let me hasten to assure you.
I’m a nice Dutch person, one of those people whose parents put a big burden on their kids by raising them to be good and honest and not lie. I mean, this is not easy all the time. I never had the fun of shoplifting a pack of gum as a kid. I don’t have a towel in my house with a hotel name on it because I never stole anything out of a hotel room that wasn’t meant for the taking. I never snoop in people’s medicine cabinets; it wouldn’t even occur to me. If I break something, I fess up and pay if required. Truly, I am een heilig boontje, as they say in my native Holland, a goody-goody as they say in America. It’s a miracle I have any friends.
So what’s up with the Italian toilet? Okay, here’s the story: Just picture us now, my man and I, on vacation in Italy to rest up from the stresses of our expat life in Armenia. We’re cruising around the boot of Italy in a rented car. It’s a beautiful September day. We’re totally charmed by the lovely old towns we’ve seen in the last couple of days. We’re in a good mood. We love the South of Italy.
In the evening we find a hotel on the Adriatic coast that is still open. Many places are closed because the tourist season is already over. Unfortunately the place severely annoys us with its pretentious ambiance and the haughty attitude of the signora behind the counter. Southern Italians are lovely people, but this specimen is not one of them.
The hotel is a fairly new establishment with energy saving features. I’m in favor of energy saving features, generally, but there is such a thing as going overboard. The AC won’t come on unless the balcony door is closed and locked, the bathroom window is closed and locked, the door is closed and locked, everything is closed and locked.
The modern toilet won’t flush all the time, only sometimes. Is this some water saving strategy? Or do we somehow not have the knack of flushing this modern contraption? Surely not. We know how to lift the lever thing on top of the water tank. It just doesn’t properly respond every time. It has a mind of its own and flushes only when it feels like it.
So, on our way out to find dinner, I stop by the desk and explain the problem in a nice and friendly way, but the snooty signora behind the desk won’t hear of it. There’s nothing wrong with the toilet she informs me haughtily, clearly insinuating I don’t know how to use the flusher. Since I have successfully operated toilet flushers of many varieties the world over, I somehow don’t think I am the problem.
We go to town and walk around, cruise a sad little street market, and sit on a terrace and have pizza and wine. We watch families doing their Sunday passeggiata with the kids. It’s a poor town, you can tell, but people are having fun.
Next door the macelleria (butchery) is doing business barbecuing sausages and putting them on buns. People carry them off. It smells really yummy and now I wish we had tried that instead of a pizza.
The next morning we pack up to leave and continue our trek along the Adriatic coast.
The toilet flusher has worked off and on in its own arrogant way, but now that I am vacating the room I am determined to leave the toilet clean, as I was taught to do. I flush. It doesn’t work. I try again and it still does not flush. I pull at the lever a bit harder. Nothing. I’m losing my patience and give it a yank. It nastily responds by breaking apart. I hear a piece of its anatomy drop down into the tank with a sickening splash.
And this is what I did, dear readers: We paid for the hotel and I said nothing about the broken toilet. I just walked out of there and figured the signora had it coming for being a snob and making me feel like a stupid foreigner. (I don’t need any help in that department.)
But to this very day I harbor in a hidden corner of my brain a tiny shred of guilt for not being a good girl that morning. Guilt for not confessing that I broke something in the room.
It’s really tiny though, the guilt. Really tiny.
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Now it’s your time to confess. Please. When have you been bad abroad? I can’t wait to hear, if only to know I am not the only one.