Yeah. Well shit. I just used the men’s bathroom. My clue was the “Herren” sign on the door I saw on the way out. Perhaps my first clue should have been the long-haired guy combing his hair at the sink upon first arrival.
Pat and I had met a woman for lunch yesterday at a lovely placed called the Literature Haus in Berlin. After a lovely sea bass entree, I went downstairs for a lovely afternoon pee. I saw a door with the international bathroom signs: the stick man and stick lady with a skirt. “Aha – a unisex bathroom!” said my feeble mind – I’d experienced this before. “This is Europe,” I thought to myself – “anything goes – coed naked saunas, Coke without ice, beans for breakfast,” so I went through another open door and saw the guy combing his hair at the sink. I didn’t make eye contact. My general impression was that it was a guy with a mullet or a very homely woman. My other impression was “Dang, this place really smells like pee!” So, I peed – and as I washed my hands I noticed a bunch of urinals in this unisex bathroom. I thought “Seriously? It’s a real free for all around here – women have to be subjected to men at the urinals and vice versa; men have to pee in front of women?” I turned to leave, and as I did I saw the open door I’d gone through. It said “Herren.” “Men.” As I kept walking into the hallway, I saw the poor guy who had been combing his mullet. He was probably waiting for his woman. His woman: the one who can read.
I went upstairs and sat back down with Pat (hubby) and Nathalie (his business associate – she’s German). I told them about my escapade into the world of men. Poor mullet guy. Nathalie explained that there aren’t any unisex bathrooms in Germany. Good to know. I must have been in France. And I am sure I was in one in NYC in 1984. Damn clubbing days. During my giggling fit, Pat told us about his visit to Amsterdam bathrooms (airport) where the women clean the urinals right next to where you are urinal-ing. But that’s Amsterdam. That’s a whole other story: the women at airport security always get to second base with me but always skip first.
Another thing I’ve noticed, no matter where I’ve been eating in Germany, is the really different table service. I don’t want to say it’s slow as if that’s a negative thing – but it’s certainly slower. For example, in the U.S., one barely finishes the last morsel of food before the server removes the dirty plate from the table. Not here. You can finish your entree and the plate will sit. Indefinitely. A few nights ago my leftover trout grew an exotic fish fungus right before my eyes. Meantime, empty beer glasses are another familiar scene. Again, in the U.S., one has only sucked the head off a beer before the server is pushing another.
My guess is the prompt service provided to U.S. diners leads to better tips. Fast beer and quick coffee = better tip. And the constant clearing of dirty plates is an implicit way of saying “C’mon, you’re done eating – chop chop! Don’t want dessert? Don’t let the door hit ya in the ass on the way out.” And then the server deposits the bill at the table and says “Whenever you’re ready” which really means “I’ll be back before you’ve had time to check your teeth for spinach.”
I had a long chat with a German man tonight (another business associate of Pat’s). He said a 12% tip is automatically included in your bill here in Germany. He said they will never bring your check until you ask for it. When you sit down at the table to eat, the server assumes it is your table for the night. They don’t expect the table to turn over. I am guessing they make less money overall – even though they make $8.50 Euros per hour. Adding another 5% tip is fine if you’d like.
I admit I did enjoy the slower dining pace. It’s not that it was a new experience, but for some reason I noticed it this time- probably because I was ready for dessert – and that fungus-growing trout was giving me the evil eye.