Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Hungary: Dubious Shelf Life

You know how sometimes your workplace turns into a piece of surrealist theatre of the scary, nightmarish kind, with land mines hidden in a muddy field surrounded by barbed wire that you have to traverse at night in the rain while being jeered at by homicidal horror clowns churning out Excel documents with distressing mis-spellings and being forced to solve abstract maths problems with your hands and feet shackled while an orchestra of deformed, plague-infested children plays Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers on rusty brass instruments covered in slimy snails to the accompaniment of the anguished screams of amputees being forced to endure team-building exercises on a rail replacement bus, all the while being observed by a group of toothless sex offenders scratching their fungus-infested nails on a blackboard? Yep. That's been our work environment for the past two and a half months.

Luckily we went on a much-needed mini break to Budapest recently, to visit Lithuanian Friend, and are pleased to report that Hungarian plumbing appears to be entirely satisfactory; toilets are hygienic and well-equipped. Innocent tourists frolicking in the land of cabbage-rich food beware, however: Lithuanian Friend warned us that Hungarian toilets are prone to exhibiting the dreaded German-style toilet shelf!

[we pause briefly here to give everyone time to utter loud primal screams of fear]

We noted with interest when skiing some years ago that while you would find the Italian-style allaturca toilets in Italy, they would be absent just across the border in Switzerland. When skiing, in other words, one could encounter vastly different toilet cultures on the same day, in the same mountain range. Clearly in the Alps, culture trumps geography when it comes to porcelain design. Likewise in Hungary, though they don't speak a Germanic or even an Indo-European language, people apparently feel enough affinity with German culture, or at least the toilet-related parts, to embrace the toilet shelf enthusiastically. 

The history of the toilet shelf, meanwhile, is somewhat murky. From the various blog posts and articles that we could find in the shadier corners of the internet, it appears the toilet shelf is intended to either 

a) facilitate inspection of faeces in order to be able to discuss colour and consistency with one's physician (unless one suffers from colon cancer, why?), friends (why on Earth??) and family (WHY, IN GOD'S NAME, WHY?), or 

b) reduce splashback, which apparently fills Germans with bacteriophobic terror. Possibly a combination of a) and b) may account for this strange and off-putting phenomenon. Unfortunately not even Der Spiegel was able to illuminate this turbid aspect of German culture, and perhaps that is for the best. It seems, however, that the shelf toilet is rampant not only in Germany and Hungary but also in the Netherlands and parts of Poland. We are tempted to induce its prevalence in these parts to a vaguely defined shared cultural heritage, possibly to do with the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Let us swiftly move as far away from the image of the toilet shelf as possible, and instead enjoy some pleasant images of Hungarian toilets. We'll begin with the facilities at one of the Central European University buildings!

As we entered our friend's office, we noticed this on the door and were most impressed. A master sign-writing craftsman has been at work here! Note the exquisite politeness, constructive advice, and helpful illustration.

The outside of the toilet-stall door boasts an equally friendly and helpful sign. We were in signage heaven!

An overview of the stalls, with their helpful and instructive signs and doors that go all the way down to the floor. Could this toilet get any better?

An encouraging cleaning-supply corner with a sink, a mop and a bucket. Our friend told us that a family cleans this building, and that they are really friendly.

For some reason we don't seem to have a photo of the actual toilet. A strange and slightly disturbing oversight - but perhaps we were so overcome with the toilet's cleanliness and efficiency that we simply forgot to photograph it? In any case, we hope our inattention is made up for by this wonderful picture of the sink, with its special antibacterial soap and pedagogical instructions for how to disinfect one's hands!

One last wistful glance at yet another wonderful, friendly sign. To whoever wrote the signs in this office, you are our hero!

 Our next view of the best of Budapest plumbing is from a delectable little patisserie called À table, on Arany János Utca. Lithuanian Friend had assured us that this gem of a café has the best pastries in town. Now, to be fair, we only visited one boulangerie on our sojourn in Budapest - this one - but we are convinced that our friend is right! Feast your eyes on the sight of the toilet in this delightful pastry-shop, before booking your tickets to Budapest:

The first thing we noticed was this beautiful yet sturdy coat-hook. We actually sighed from sheer delight.

Zappy prints brighten the wall

We can't conceive of a more cheerful and hygienic sight! There is a good bin and a toilet roll holder, and cleaning obviously takes place on a frequent basis.

To add to the whimsical cosiness, the walls are decorated with French newsprint.

We can't believe we are still having to mention the fact that paper towels should not, in the interests of hygiene, be uncovered, and especially not displayed in a dip-your-wet-hands-with-accompanying-germs-into-this-pile-of-towels-that-everyone-else-will-also-be-digging-their-hands-into manner, but on the other hand, check out the nice soap and festive mirror!

A sign on the door imparts a no doubt friendly and informative message. (We can't read it, but there is no doubt in our heart.)

Democracy in Hungary seems, sadly, to be going down the toilet, but in terms of hygiene facilities, Budapest is a city to be celebrated! We found the locals friendly and the city itself so beautiful we risked whiplash injuries from craning our neck wherever we went - we could not stop staring at the gorgeous belle époque architecture!

We have many wonderful toilet pictures in our archive, but we have to leave off here today. Not, however, before enjoying a Festive Video. Here's a song with a feminist message that features the word "plumbing". The video also has footage of an actual toilet. You're welcome!

Festive Video: Elizabeth Cook, Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman

Related Reading

All posts featuring Lithuanian Friend

The fascinating story of the time when we fell on our face on the face of the Matterhorn and had to be rescued by a strapping Swiss mountain guard, and some much less strapping and much more leering Italian mountain guards:
Italian Toilets: Mi Piace Servizi Igienici 

More fascinating information about the Italian allaturca toilets: On Her Majesty's Privy Service

All posts featuring cafés

All posts featuring signage

An excellent blog post on scary German toilets 

Another excellent blog post on scary German Toilets 

An article in Der Spiegel, disappointingly inconclusive, on the origin of the terrifying German toilet shelf

Yet another blog post on scary German toilets, that commends the Swedes for doing good toilet

Shewee Fiend Friend's favourite blog about German toilets (actually we found this one disappointing and crude, but we agree with Shewee Fiend Friend about almost literally everything else (except, at the last count: the merits of brunch, cats, and country music), so one small disagreement is probably healthy)

Do not forsake this chance to refresh your memory on the history of the Austro-Hungarian empire!
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