Sunday, September 29, 2019

To Flush it or Not ~ A New Normal

Shortly after arriving from the Pacific Northwest at our Stone House on the Hill last summer, our young houseguest took me aside. From the look on his face, I knew he had something serious on his mind.

'My mom told me we don't put the toilet paper in the toilet here.  We put it in the little bin by the toilet. Is that true??' he asked in a voice tinged with disbelief.

The Stone House on the Hill - Greek Peloponnese

'Very true,' I assured him. 'It is normal here to do that.' I went on with a lofty explanation of doing things differently when you travel to new places and how in many places in the world tissue is tossed, not flushed. My grandiose teaching moment was lost on him though: he was still processing the 'don't flush it' idea.

Lemons growing at our Stone House on the Hill

I concluded our talk by confessing that when I return to the States I sometimes have trouble remembering that paper is flushed. Tossing, not flushing, is my new normal.

Toilet etiquette is just one of the many things that we've had to learn to 'do differently' as ex pats living in Greece.  

Sunflower bouquet at our Pacific Northwest home

Normal is as Normal Does

It has been some 7.5 months since we have been anywhere outside Greece thanks to that longer-than-expected wait for residency permits which kept us 'in detention' there. We had a pretty intense dose of all-things-Greek. 

Manson, our U.S. home under last year's harvest moon

(Note to new readers: this fall marks two years since we took up full time residence in The Mani, a region in the Peloponnese where the famous Kalamata olive is grown. Last fall we replanted our U.S. roots by purchasing a home in a small town in eastern Washington State.)

Manson is surrounded by apple orchards and vineyards

Ten days ago we made our annual autumn trek back to the States. In the short time we've been here I've found myself bemused and sometimes frustrated at the number of times I've had to stop and think about what the name of something is in English or how to complete a task here. 

Case in point: At the hardware store I had a difficult time coming up with the name of what I needed to clean a paint brush.  In my mind I was looking for what we call in Greece, 'white spirit' . . .I told the clerk  'paint remover' and found myself with a lot of products designed to take paint off surfaces being repainted. Finally, we came up with it: 'paint thinner'! 

Some 40+ wineries now make this area their home as well

Also surprising is the number of things that we once did by rote that now seem so very 'different'. It just doesn't seem normal. Take for instance. . .

. . . filling the car with gasoline.  In Greece, the attendant directs you to the pump then pumps the gas and washes the windows for you. Takes your payment and brings you change, telling you to have a nice day as the transaction concludes.

Here you pull up to the pump of your choosing and insert a credit card at a machine in the bay and once it is accepted, you pump your gasoline, take your receipt and drive away. The only human contact you might have is if your card isn't accepted and you must go inside to see the clerk. It gave us pause the first couple of times we visited the gas station - we've been spoiled by Greek behaviors.

Lake Chelan remains the major attraction of this area

. . . or using that little plastic credit card. I am amazed at how many times we pull it out to pay for goods and services here. In our everyday life in Greece the only place we use the plastic is at the large supermarket on the highway between villages or when shopping in the city, Kalamata. Certainly not at the small shops and restaurants we frequent in the village.

Our surrounding countryside in Manson

. . .or those do-it-yourself checkouts at large supermarkets. If you are smart enough to check yourself out, you need not talk to any employee during your shopping experience. How impersonal is that?  As long as a human is there to check me out, I plan to have them do so.

Our route to Wenatchee - the largest city near us

. . .or the focus on privacy. Privacy is a big deal in the U.S. and I had forgotten what a big deal it was until I was discussing it with friends over lunch this week.  The two were talking about the security precautions they take to protect their identity -both on-line and in real life. They actually sell little ink things (not just marking pens) here to mark out your information before tossing printed matter! Then we talked about all the security steps to be taken in computer land.  It was --sorry, but this phrase works best --'all Greek to me'!

I told them about how we get our mail delivered to a café in the village.  Packages are delivered there, important documents as well I suspect.  You pretty much sort through and see everyone's mail -- and you pay it little mind. It isn't unusual to take a package addressed to a friend or neighbor to them. We don't think about theft - of mail itself or a person's identity.  There is something curiously refreshing about it.

Even the hotel in Manson welcomed us back last year

I've been reading up on repatriation, the term that describes expats returning to their home countries, to write this post.  And the experts warn that  'reverse culture shock' can be very real.  They say those who've worked in other countries may find themselves suffering from identity loss when they return home. 

Showing friends our new community

Individuals may struggle with reestablishing friendships as interests and activities and life focus has changed - not only for those returning but those who stayed behind.  Adapting to the new community you return to can be as difficult as adapting to the foreign one you just left.

They advise staying in touch with those back home so you are able to pick up where you left off. No problem there - we have a circle of friends who've stayed in touch regularly by phone, email and social media. 

It is harvest time in the Chelan/Manson area

Experts do suggest following 'back home' news media and social media to stay in touch with changes occurring there. Again, no problem there thanks to our various subscriptions, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and others.

Re-patriots can experience stress, depression, social anxiety and disenchantment. Many articles say some re-patriots need counseling or support groups. Whoa! No need for that! 

Wine grapes, three weeks from harvest

However, in none of the articles I read, did they mention toilet etiquette. That apparently is one area of re-adjustment the experts haven't yet flushed out!

A toast to new 'normal'

On that note, I'll close for this time around with a wish for continued safe travels to you and yours. I'll be back with more tales from the expat travel world soon.  As always, thanks for the time you spend with us ~

Linking sometime with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


  1. One of the things l considered as far as where to move was the ability to flush the toilet. It was essential to check the plumbing before leasing. There are still places in Spain where you toss and l much prefer flush and bidet. Funny l was just reading an old article of mine of when we went back to the States for a visit. A little bit of shock but nothing huge. Glad it's working out for you so far. I am starting to forget English words as well, so goody goody! :-)

    1. What I find amusing is the number of people in the last 10 days who have asked, "So you still like Greece better than here?" Yes! we answer without pause thinking of the things I wrote about here and all the many that didn't fit in limited space!

  2. I hear ya! You write about experiences familiar to me. But I had to groan at not yet "flushing out" toilet habits. :)

    1. Ha, ha! I was hoping someone would read far enough to groan at the end!

  3. I just got to thinking that truly living expat lives, spending the larger part of the year somewhere else from home, would do this to you. Our three months in Mexico doesn't count. But Manila has definitely become more and more foreign to me.

    1. It is interesting how the human being can adapt to a whole new world and ways of doing things if they just let themselves, isn't it, Carol?

  4. I love the toilet paper etiquette. I also had a big problem with privacy but in the opposite way. There was absolutely no privacy at all in Greece and everyone wanted to see what you were doing in your balcony. I was eventually forced to add bamboo because the neighbors made it a daily pastime to stare at our goings on.

    1. Well, it does take a bit of getting used to, that 'know-all, tell-all' approach to life but on the flip side it is nice not feeling that you are nothing more than an ID number, plastic card or cog in a wheel.

  5. Such an interesting read. The reverse culture shock sounds intriguing. My closest experience was livinga nomadic lifestyle for 2 years, in my homeland. Yet,while still in my homeland, to my friends and family we might as well have gone to the moon. For us, this reinforced power of culture. Step outside the cultural norms, and you risk a degree of isolation. We found many do not relate to what you are doing. I suspect this is a other form of culture shock. Oh, I have heard about the toilet etiquette in Greece - but strangely we do not remember anything about this who,e in Greece 👍

    1. Actually, that practice happens in any number of countries so I guess we were prepared for it in Greece. What I have found is your comment above, 'many do not related to what you are doing' and therefore don't stay in touch. That was extremely hard for me to deal with - especially from those who I thought were close friends and now I hear from them maybe once or twice a year.

  6. I was hooked by your intro, and it really made me think about how we become used to different ways of doing things, and get to do them without thinking when we move countries. I haven't yet flushed out a lot of old habits from different stints in various expat situations around the world although I'm glad the squat and long drop days are over now that we're in Australia :)

    1. Yes, that squat and drop is not my favorite means of relieving myself although I've heard stories of those not familiar with toilets climbing up and squatting on the seat to use the abode. All in what we are used to, for sure!

  7. I found the idea of not flushing paper a bit surprising; I would think the trash bin would soon reek and pose a health hazard. I'd have to think about that...
    Thanks for sharing at

    1. Actually I have come to see it as a more environmentally friendly way of disposal. The garbage is burned and becomes ash. No chemicals are used to break down the toilet paper and have it and them washed into the water supply!

  8. Oh my! The things most of us would never think about in the glamorous life of an ex-pat! Here in NJ, we are the only state that you are not allowed to pump your own gas. But, you can select the pump of your choosing, lol!

  9. Oh, yes, the not-flushing-the-toilet-paper issue! It's common in the Middle East, even Israel. We lived in Palestine for a couple of years, in a brand new apartment, and was warned by the landlady to NOT flush the toilet paper. I decided to ignore it, which was a big mistake. (I wrote story about it called Expat Housing: Foreign Plumbing and Other Fun)Living in foreign countries will always mean making adjustments. The world is an interesting place!


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