Expat Confession: Being Bad Abroad

by Miss Footloose

Town of Ostuni, southern Italy

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. And no, the problem did not involve the (mis)functioning of my digestive tract, so you’re safe to keep reading.

I’m a nice Dutch person

You know, 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. No towels with a hotel name live in my house 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. I’m a goody goody two shoes, 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 where we love to go for fun and food. 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 towns we’ve seen in the last couple of days. We’re in a good mood. We love the South of Italy.

Alberobello Italy

Alberobello, truli houses

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.

Fine, we’ll just deal with Her Majesty

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 air conditioner 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.

Strangely, 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 thingie 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, we 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.

She gives me a look full of disdain

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 enjoy 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.

panino con salsiccia

Next door the macelleria (butchery) is doing good 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. We tidy the room and close and lock the doors and windows. (Close and lock.)

Adriatic Sea

The Adriatic Coast – how beautiful is this!

Since my complaint to the signora last night, the toilet flusher has continued to work 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.

Oh, no!

And this is what I did, dear readers: While my man took our luggage to the car, I 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. (As a serial expat 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.

* * *

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.

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You did the right thing. I hate it when people patronise yo when you know how to operate a flush.
Anyway, I suppose it is all part of the experience…Thanks for your kind comments on my blog & my story. Am your latest follower! Hi from London.

Once when my husband and I were in Paris, we sat down at a cafe for lunch. The waiter wasn’t very friendly or attentive to us until he found out that we were American. Immediately, he was all over us. Laughing, making chit chat, checking in repeatedly to make sure we were okay, etc. He left the other tables, populated with Italians, alone. I suspect that he wanted a big fat American tip. Unfortunately for him my Dutch husband paid the bill = no big fat American tip. I know of course that it’s not expected of us to tip… Read more »

You’re still an ‘een heilig boontje’ (how I love that term and yearn to use it instead of ‘goody-goody’) in my opinion. I’d have done the same thing myself and for the same reasons. The hotel proprietor should have shown you how to operate the flush once you explained that you were having trouble with it — and I say this as a former hotel proprietor myself. If she couldn’t be bothered to do that, she deserved what happened. We rented a car in Japan once and a rock flew off the motorway and went straight through the engine —… Read more »

A year ago, in Miami, I experienced one of those toilets that has two flush systems depending on the debris in the toilet. it took me a while to figure out how to use it. In fact I was surprised to see that in Miami. Sad about the lack of customer service in the Italian hotel. BTW, you should tweet the name of the hotel and say what happened and perhaps they will get some negative press and reviews. Just a thought.

I don’t blame you and I don’t think you should feel guilty about this for one minute longer!


Great and readable story, since marrried to an expatm I do see your point.

btw, thank for the visit and comment & nice to meet you!

We were in Joburg for 10 days, so rented a car. It worked fine all those days but on the day we were to leave, just when we checked out of the hotel, it had flat tyre. the hotel staff helped us change it which was very nice of them but for some reason we didn’t tell the rental company about it.. In our defence, their staff checked the car before taking the keys and they had blocked a certain amount on our credit card for about 10 more days so they should have found the flat tyre and charged… Read more »

I was standing in the metro station yesterday, in Copenhagen when an elderly gentleman asked me “is this the train to the airport?”
After I told him “yes” and we were both ON said train, I realized it was in fact ,NOT the train to the airport.
I should have found the man and told him ,instead I got as far away as possible and simmered in guilt.

Oh my! Yes, I would have done the same thing for the same reasons.

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