Friday, February 3, 2012

the bathroom bandit

I could never get used to calling "the restroom" "the toilet." It is simply not in me. It seems too intimate. I prefer to shroud my toilet habits with a bit of mystery. Could you point me in the direction of the restroom? You know, just to rest for a moment.

Germany's vocabulary is not the only thing that made my restroom trips awkward. In Germany, public restrooms are not free. A fact that I was aware of prior to our arrival. What I was unaware of however, was how this fee would be processed. I assumed it would be obvious. It is not that obvious.

By my second day in Germany, I had only used restrooms at the restaurants where we had eaten. There appeared to be no sign of an area insisting upon payment at these restrooms. "Ok," I thought to myself, "That makes sense. In a restaurant, you have obviously already contributed to the establishment. Like a "customer only" gas station policy. Got it."

That evening, while at the Fruh enjoying their Kolsch beer, nature calls me to the restroom. As I approach, an old woman is speaking German to another restroom go-er while handing her a paper towel. In return, the woman hands her a shiny coin. To me, this registers as a tip for services rendered. With this transaction processed in my mind, I slip passed the two women.

After doing my business, I proceed to wash my hands. With no assistance from the bathroom attendant, I begin to leave without tipping. The old German woman speaks rapidly to me... in German.  I awkwardly put my hands up as though to say, "No pockets, so no coins for tip," and return to our table thinking, "Why would I tip you? You didn't do anything..."

Twenty minutes and another Kolsch later... dang it.. restroom... again.

As I approach for the second time, the old German woman smiles brightly at me and speaks happily. With still no clue what she is saying, I enter a stall.

When I exit this time, she stares at me pointedly then back down to the little bowl beside her. A little bowl full of coins. Dang it! Dang it! Dang it! I still have no pockets, so no coins.

I feel the red-hot heat of embarrassment creeping to my panic stricken face. So, this must be the part where the sweet old German woman takes pity on the stupid American girl. Where her grandmotherly instinct comes out as she pats me reassuringly on the arm as though to say, "It's ok, I'm sure you will learn."

That is not what happened.

The old German woman is now angry. She yells furiously, throws up two fingers, and begins waving them over her head. Still unable to speak German, I assume she is counting my stolen bathroom trips, making sure that the whole world knows that I am a bad bad American.

With the sounds of her angry syllables ringing in the air, I scurry back to our table once again. My walk of shame.

The next night we returned to the Fruh for dinner. I did not use the restroom.


  1. Oooh ouch... that sounds like a tricky situation. I probably would have ended up making exactly the same mistakes, if that helps at all!

  2. Oh, that is so awkward! When I was in Turkey, there were some places where you had to pay to use the restroom, and then pay extra if you wanted an "American toilet". Otherwise it was just a random hole in the ground. Then you had to pay extra if you wanted toilet paper. I was always very happy that I had some money with me!

  3. I'm going to Germany in May and was not aware of this!!!!! thx for the heads up.. that is so strange.. I can wash my hands without your assistance lady.