There are few things in the world that are universal. You might think showering is one of them. How many variations could there be?

The answer – more than you can imagine. Consider the various elements involved: plumbing, setting, temperature, interior design…fauna.

I had my first taste of unique plumbing in Ireland. In the hostels where I was staying, the shower heads had no cold or hot taps, just one big knob.

If you turned it to the left, you got more water pressure, but the temperature dropped dramatically. If you turned it to the right, you got heat, but the pressure turned into a trickle. In the middle you got nothing.

Even at its best, the water didn’t penetrate my first layer of hair. I had two choices: freeze to death, or walk around all day scratching the shampoo out of my scalp.

This plumbing challenge, however, paled in comparison to one my friend Terese encountered in Bolivia.

The Horror, The Horror

“It was like something in a Frankenstein movie,” she said, clasping her hands together and reaching up to pull down an imaginary lever.

Apparently this lever turned on the electricity to heat the shower water. It was on the wall about a foot away from the shower head. The two were linked by a metal pipe.

Terese had always been warned that water and electricity don’t mix, so she was nervous. Nevertheless, she got into the shower stall, turned on the water, and then…all the power in the house went off.

She later learned there was only enough power to heat a tiny trickle of water, and turning the volume any further blew the fuses. She never did discover the maximum level.

Then there was the rustic shower she found on a beach in Mexico. Someone had rigged up a barrel and bucket on the roof of a shack with a sandy floor.

When she wanted to shower, she pulled on a cord and the bucket of water fell over in a gush. She then had to wet, lather and rinse with one hand.

The water was cold.

Water, Water Everywhere

North Americans expect hot water in showers, but in Malaysia I discovered there was only cold water in hostels and even in many middle-class homes. And I mean ice cold. The temperature, however, wasn’t my only problem.

The showers in many bathrooms in Malaysia aren’t contained in stalls. They are just on the wall beside the toilet.

When you flushed the toilet, smelly yellow water came gushing out of the bottom of the bowl onto the floor-the same floor you stood on to take your shower.

No curtain. Nothing to retain the water. So when I showered, the entire room got soaked.

One place was particularly memorable. When you flushed the toilet, smelly yellow water came gushing out of the bottom of the bowl onto the floor-the same floor you stood on to take your shower.

Singapore is a country known for its cleanliness, so I was surprised when I discovered a bug about an inch long in my shower at the YMCA.

I screamed.
I ran from the room.
I called the management.

A few moments later, a desk clerk and three cleaning women arrived to investigate. When I pointed out the creepy crawly that was by then sauntering nonchalantly along the floor of the bathroom, the desk clerk nodded knowingly.

“That, madam, is not a bug,” he said. “That is an insect.”

I am still trying to understand the distinction. Since that encounter, I have learned from Terese how to prepare for shower filth and fauna.

Protect Your Feet

“Always bring flip-flops,” she says. “Wear them in the shower to avoid bacteria, slime and creepy-crawlies. And block the drain at night.”

And where did she learned this? Somewhere remote and exotic? Nope. It was right here in Canada.

When she was a young, starving secretary sharing a basement apartment, she discovered bugs and slimy, algae-mildewed floors in the shower. She wore flip-flops to protect herself.

It turns out that some aspects of showering may be universal after all.

Guylaine Spencer is a Canadian freelance writer specializing in travel, history and the arts. She has written for VIA Rail Destinations, Transitions Abroad, The World & I, History Magazine, France Today and other publications.
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