Friday, February 25, 2011

#11 Toilet Brushes

At the mall...
At the Nature Center...
Sometimes I am struck by things that aren't so un-American as they are just out of place. It happens like this. I am out in the world. My mind is gradually accepting the fact that I live in a foreign country so it has let its guard down a bit and doesn't react to every wacky hairdo that walks by. Okay, that's a stretch. I did stare at the girl with the bubble gum pink 'do on the Metro today. But otherwise I'm unfased. And then I do something ordinary, like pay for a latte or go to the bathroom, and afterwards I am left with this unsettled feeling. Like something just happened that's a little out of sync. Some element was out of place. A tune pops into my head - "One of these things is not like the other" a la Sesame Street - as I try to rewind the last few minutes to find this mental pebble in my shoe.

That's how I came across toilet brushes. I know, I know. You were probably hoping fo some witty, sophisticated follow-up to my post on Euro-sports and then you got F-bombs so I'll try not to devolve into bad bathroom humor. Bear with me.

At school - you get the picture
I go to the bathroom as much as the next person, without fanfare or really much thought. I don't buy patterned toilet paper (it's not even sold in Denmark). I've never been tempted to try out those blue things you hang from the bowl. I don't use the time to do crosswords or read the paper. All in all it's a pretty unremarkable event. Most days I'm greeted by my now-familiar hospital-white-meets-brushed-steel-Danish minimalist bathroom.

But as my world has gradually expanded beyond my own apartment I've come across other bathrooms. At other peoples' houses. In malls. In cafes. In hotels. In museums. And I am now 98% convinced that 99% of them had a toilet brush sitting next to the toilet.

I know, I know. Not a stunning revelation and certainly not as satisfying as when they pulled all those Chilean guys out of the mine but consider this: When's the last time you were in a public restroom and looked down to find a toilet brush? Once you start wracking your brain, you'll come to the same conclusion I did - never! Who would put a toilet brush in an American truck stop or mall bathroom stall?

First of all, there's the grossness factor. I have a hard enough time squatting to pee and trying to avoid physical contact with the doorknobs after washing so the thought of a picking up a brush that's been used by God knows how many people after they've just wiped their behinds is asking more than this American is willing to give.

Second, you'd have to bolt them to the toilets. I know this is in stark contradiction to my previous thought but I've found that there's really nothing Americans won't do for free stuff as evidenced by Costco sample tables on the weekends. So a toilet brush in a public bathroom? If there are people out there willing to take the bathrobes, the remote controls, and the silverware from their hotel rooms, we can safely assume someone will eventually take the brush.

So that leaves me here in Denmark at the crossroads of civility (they leave the brushes) and dubious bathroom hygiene, pondering why they are even there in the first place. It could have something to do with the low-flow, water-saving toilets but I'm going to go a step further and place more of the blame on the Danish diet, which takes meat-and-potatoes to new heights of literalism. Ronald Reagan must have consulted with some Danes when he tried to reclassify ketchup and pickle relish as "vegetables". Those that do make it into regular dietary rotation here - cabbage, leeks, and lots and lots of root veggies - probably aren't doing Denmark's plumbing systems any favors.

I've developed a second working theory though and it goes something like this: I can't fathom how a country that only does business between 10:00 and 3:00, has a ridiculously complicated method of basic counting and telling time, and requires residents (namely me) to travel five Metro stops to find an open store that sells toilet paper on a Sunday can become or remain a modern, industrialized nation. I have determined that the way Denmark holds its place in the world is by creating its own little bubble of consumer demand for random items which are deemed culturally "necessary" but really just serve to keep Danes employed producing, importing or selling things the rest of the world larely ingnores. I will conclude this post by taking Eurostats into my own hands and doing a comparative analysis of the Danish and American economies.