Cultural exchange.

When we travel, we make plans to see national landmarks, great museums, the crown jewels. And then we get there, and we remember things like one of our German guests last week, who, when asked about her impressions of America so far, mentioned the toilets.

Apparently they have a button system in Germany – one button for liquids, another for solids. Kate immediately chimed in, having traveled there last summer: “Yes! The buttons!”

So I guess that’s how memories are made: In the room you visit multiple times a day.

Later in the week, Johanna showed us an aerial photo of her house, and I asked what the crops were in the surrounding fields. “I don’t know the word,” she said. “It is a seed for making oil.”

Soy? No. Canola? No. She reached for her translator, pecked out the word and blanched.

“Oh, rapeseed,” I said. You can imagine how awkward.

Speaking of Germans, here are ours:


Johanna and Henrike are the ones on the outside – ours. The inner pair stayed with a friend, and this was the day we took them to Comerica Park, duh, where they capered under the big Tiger and took many pictures. We didn’t take them to the game, because they would have been bored, so we took them to the mall, where everything is so cheap! Their suitcases were already hernia bait when they arrived, and that was before two shopping trips, with Windsor and Boston still on the itinerary.

So it was a fun trip for them, I hope. The first night we went to a bar in Hamtramck where Kate’s band was playing, but the music was delayed and the bar is one that doesn’t enforce the smoking law, so they mostly stared at their phones.

“I dunno, I thought a couple of German kids might want to see an authentic Detroit rock club,” I told a friend afterward.

“Oh, come on,” he said. “You know there are pictures of that place all over German Twitter hashtagged #fuckyeahdetroit.”

If only. They mostly seemed to enjoy the shopping, and watching “Mean Girls” on Netflix. (German-dubbed name: “Girls Club.”)

And that was just one part of the last action-packed week. There were also trips to and from Port Huron and Mackinac for the race. Kate took off for the weekend, so there was an airport stop-off. Essentially, this weekend was the first down time I’ve had. Did some yoga — man, did that feel good after a few hundred miles of driving — and took a long bike ride. We ended up at the Eastern Market’s new Sunday market, where the vegetable stalls are replaced by crafts and other summer-festival sorts of stuff. I had a booze-infused popsicle and headed for home.

This week, and the next few, threaten to be just as crazed, but I will strive to keep up here. Thanks for being such great commenters in my absence. You all are the best.

In the meantime…

Pro-Russian separatists are said to be collecting the bodies of the dead plane-crash victims and? Holding them. Who ARE these people?

I can’t stop watching this Elaine Stritch performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” and I thank Roy for finding it:

And another crazy week begins. In English.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' |

31 responses to “Cultural exchange.”

  1. Hattie said on July 21, 2014 at 1:50 am

    You are showing them a good time! Yes. Raps, it’s called in German.

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  2. Deborah said on July 21, 2014 at 4:02 am

    Where are they from in Germany?

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  3. alex said on July 21, 2014 at 7:26 am

    The other thing about German toilets, at least as I remember them from a trip twenty-some years ago, was that they aren’t bowls full of standing water like ours. You shit onto a ledge in the middle of the bowl. It’s like putting your poop on a pedestal. (Probably a good thing if you’re looking for your gold dental work that seemed to disappear along with your last meal, or any indications that maybe you need to see a doctor.) It’s a gravity-based system where the water tank is high above and the force of a flush knocks the pile of turds off of the ledge and erases the skid marks too.

    And German wall outlets look like Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin’s bare bums in the Coneheads movies.

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  4. MM said on July 21, 2014 at 7:52 am

    I have one of those dual flush gizmos on my toilet here in the USA. Two buttons. One marked with one drop for #1 and one marked with 2 (for #2). Works great. I got it at Home Depot, but I see it on Amazon (HYR460 HydroRight Total Toilet Repair Kit with Dual Flush Converter).

    I know that I’m saving water, but it doesn’t help my water bill since it is always the minimum.

    I’m trying to conserve. Just got a battery powered lawn mower to replace my old gas engine model. Much quieter and hoping that the pollution is captured at the power plant.

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  5. beb said on July 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Rapeseed oil *is* canola oil. I guess someone decided they could never be able to sell it under it’s old name.

    The level of xenophobia expressed towards the minor children flocking into our country is both shocking and disgusting. Perhaps if the government started calling them what they really are – “refugees” things wouldn’t be so bad. Or maybe not. This is a gold mine for the Tea party Republicans. They have no incentive to fix the problem and every incentive to make it worse. Then blame the President.

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  6. Julie Robinson said on July 21, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Beb beat me to it about canola/rapeseed.

    Stephen Sondheim wrote Ladies Who Lunch for Stritch, and of course, the sad thing is that for years she did drink to that, and to everything else. But what an electric performance! She was never afraid to show desperation. What honesty.

    Stritch’s last years were difficult, but according to this article, not as difficult as what Harper Lee is going through: The book by Marja Mills is being advertised as authorized, but the whole situation is such a mess it’s impossible to know who to believe.

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  7. Judybusy said on July 21, 2014 at 9:41 am

    We got one of those two-system toilets for our new bathroom. So far, so good. I also like that it’s very small.

    I went to Germany as a senior, and I was very impressed with A:shoes; B:scarves; and C:the amount of physical contact between friends (my “sister” and I were soon walking arm-in-arm.) All of which have stayed with me throughout the years. The girl in the light blue jeans could be the twin of my youngest niece.

    I’ll be a no-show here Tuesday and Wednesday, as I am off to some Chicago suburb for a training on sustainable fundraising for my non-profit. I’m going with smart, fun people, and I’m looking forward to it. With government funding cuts to agencies a fact of non-profit management these days, we need to really be sophisticated about fundraising.

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  8. coozledad said on July 21, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Who ARE these people?
    The same dress-up gun fondling Christian identity fraudsters we elected to public office in 2010 and 2012. There isn’t a nickels’ difference between a Rand Paul militia nut and a Don Cossack.

    We ought to select some neutral field somewhere and let them cosplay each other to death. I recommend John McCain and Lindsey graham as co-captains for team Douche America.

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  9. nancy said on July 21, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I found the link about German water conservation interesting, especially this part:

    Germans are good at saving water, so good in fact that they have created a problem for their canalisation system: many pipes are clogged with grease, excrement and leftovers because they aren’t being flushed sufficiently with water. Especially in the summer, gutters in German cities can reek horribly.

    Our office in Lansing was plagued with sewer problems; it’s in a rehabbed house, and after the last stinky episode, we were told part of the problem was that we are only flushing toilets, and not taking showers, washing dishes and other activities that send a lot of water into the system all at once, as you would in a residential building. I wonder if that’s why institutional toilets tend to super-flush with those strong Sloan-valve systems.

    Sorry to redirect the conversation to toilets.

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  10. Dorothy said on July 21, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Judybusy I wonder if any of my former colleagues from Kenyon might be at that conference? Keep an eye or ear out for anyone who says they are and I guarantee they’ll know me. I worked in the Development office so I know all of the gift officers. Only exception would be the new V.P. who started on 7/1 – she replaced my boss who moved onto other duties at the college.

    I’m impressed as hell that you know what a Sloan-valve system is, Nancy. Not sure why but I’ve never known what those strong flushers were called so once again, I’ve learned something new from hanging around here!

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  11. Connie said on July 21, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I am back in the real world after a lovely week up north at Glen Lake. A week with no internet. Brian, I took that same trip with my family when I was ten. Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Estes Park, Central City, the Denver Mint are what sticks with me all these years ago. So long ago that Crazy Horse was only an arm.

    Bassett we saw a billboard for a Cabela’s Outpost in Saginaw.

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  12. alex said on July 21, 2014 at 11:11 am

    I had a Sloan-valve system when I lived in a hi-rise. You couldn’t have a decorator toilet in that building because of the water pressure, which was the best I’ve ever seen anywhere. Because gravity.

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  13. Judybusy said on July 21, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Dorothy, the training is put on by an outfit called Benevon, used by some non-profits, but I don’t know if colleges use them. I will keep an eye out, though!

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  14. jcburns said on July 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I would think after your staffers have a long day of hanging out with the Michigan legislature across the street, you’d want not one but many showers to get all that off of you.

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  15. Dexter said on July 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    My brother is a water conservation nut, always hollering “don’t flush it” when I head to the can. His bathroom reeks to hell. He watches his taps like a hawk, do not let the water run to get colder water at his house; drink the first water out of the tap. Worst, he does not shower, preferring to wash up with a small basin and a wash cloth. He lets every dish, cooking pot and pan, and utensil get used before he miserly washes dishes all at once, hating to use too much water. The consequence is, as you may suspect, semi-annual plumber visits to unclog his sewer pipe, which connects to the city sewer via a 40 foot pipe. I tell him what a plumber told me: run some water down your drain once in a while. Fuck that shit says he. And it’s been years since I have drunk water from those taps and of course, no other human being could ever possibly reside with him.

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  16. Julie Robinson said on July 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Ick ickity ick. And you’re not supposed to drink the first water from the tap (or use it for cooking) in case there’s any lead in your pipes. Maybe he has lead poisoning? At any rate, a pitcher of water in the frig takes care of the cold water issue. I don’t think I’d care for a visit.

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  17. Heather said on July 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Ugh, I am so not down with the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” people. I don’t wanna see other people’s pee in the toilet. And #2–forget it. Get a low-flow toilet already! Jeez.

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  18. Scout said on July 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    To changes gears almost entirely… alex, I made the watermelon salsa to take to a party this weekend. I wasn’t expecting it, but when I cut open the watermelon, it was a yellow one. The only thing I added to your recipe was a cucumber. Anyway, the salsa was a huge hit with chips, but I saw several people just eating it with a spoon. I will definitely make it again as it was easy, refreshing and loved by all who tried it.

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  19. Connie said on July 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Laughed out loud when I read this in the news:

    Wyoming Police released Monday morning that the cause of Oppenneer’s death was likely trauma to the head, but the exact cause has not yet been determined, due to the fact the Oppenneer was decapitated and the head has not yet been found.

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  20. Judybusy said on July 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Alex, I also made the salsa–people really liked it. I finished it off last night with blue corn chips, with a strawberry-lime capairinha on the side. I usually am not that wild about watermelon, as I find it a bit plain, but I loved the salsa. My partner, however, thinks I ruined the watermelon! (I did save most of the melon for her, which she ate on Sunday.)

    Connie, glad those folks aren’t jumping to conclusions. Best wait for the ME report. At least that’s what I read in detective novels.

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  21. Deborah said on July 21, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Our toilets at work before I retired also had those dual buttons. I hate it when people poop in public/shared toilets. I never do that. I had a Japanese friend who would never pee in a shared restroom unless she flushed while she was peeing so no one would hear it, she said that in Japan it was called a courtesy flush. She said you should flush again when you’re done.

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  22. Sue said on July 21, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    My husband makes an extraordinarily good fresh tomato salsa. The only problem is that it has to be eaten the day it’s made. More than 18 or 24 hours later and the onions overpower it. Usually not a problem, since it’s very addictive and usually gone quickly.
    He made the watermelon salsa yesterday and it was very good, although I still prefer the tomato version. But! I was able to have some leftover watermelon salsa today at lunch and it was still fresh-tasting and delicious. So the sweetness of the watermelon must keep the onions from taking over, or something.

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  23. ROGirl said on July 21, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    I replaced my toilet last summer. It was original to the house, at least 50 years old, and my water bills have been reduced significantly since the low flow toilet was installed.

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  24. Deborah said on July 21, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    It was HOT and sunny today, our succulents were frying, I had to move them into the shade. We’re having guests tonight who recently moved from Chicago, a guy I worked with at the place I worked before retiring, his wife worked there too. They visited us awhile ago here, it will be interesting to see what they think of our improvements. We’ll start out inside but when it gets a bit shadier we’ll move outside where we’ll grill shrimp and vegs on skewers with grilled plums for dessert on vanilla ice-cream with a bit of balsamic. Weirdly our kitchen clock stopped operating today, we replaced the batteries but it’s still not working. I’m a little paranoid, we’re going on a road trip in a couple of days, I hope this is not an omen.

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  25. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 21, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    My son yesterday got a picture of the public urinals in Amsterdam. Let’s just say you’ve got about as much visual protection as you would peeing onto a shrubbery in Central Park. I gather he viewed but did not use; he’s getting great mileage out of their bicycle culture, though.

    I’ll continue to suggest to anyone visiting the Mackinac Straits area the work of Mary Hartwell Catherwood:

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  26. beb said on July 21, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    I thought the horse trough urinals at old Tiger Stadium was horrible but apparently in some country a toilet if a hole in the floor that you squat over. Now that’s cultural shock!

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  27. Kirk said on July 21, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    I am told that, in China,there are footprints painted on the floor showing where to plant your feet while squatting over the hole.

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  28. Jolene said on July 21, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    I’ve heard that such toilets exist even in some places in Italy, Kirk. Given the status of my aging knees, I’d be very distressed to be confronted by such accommodations.

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  29. Kirk said on July 21, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    God bless Amurrica!

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  30. Deborah said on July 22, 2014 at 12:12 am

    I was in a place in Italy in the mid-nineties in the Tuscany area, a very small town, we we’re starving, they fixed us the best pasta meal I have ever had. Supper fresh, tomato and some kind of handmade pasta, freshly ground parmasean, I’ve never had anything that tasted better, ever. When I had to go to the restroom after, it was one of those holes in the ground with painted footprints on either side. I thought I would rather die, but I lived through the experience, it was only to pee.

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  31. Claudia said on July 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Used buttons in San Antonio. Not designated #1 or #2…but with a clear circle and a filled circle. Thought it was a great idea!

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