Blog 10: Squat Toilets and Toilet Language

Aussies in Austria, ‘it’s a small world after all…’

As we ventured into austere Austria once more, we found ourselves completely boxed-in by mountains. And by Australians. Everywhere we turned, sure enough, in our field of sight sprawled an Aussie or a mountain range. We met through our accents, of course. The Kranebitten Campingplatz situated six kilometres from the Innsbruck Hopbanhof was a choice location. Alex ran up one of the bouldersome mountains that rose from the ground fifty metres behind our tent. For the small sum of €15 per night we were practically waited upon – free hot showers, free hot water for dish-washing, free electric stoves, practically free washing and drying facilities, and wonderfully free, slightly dodgy wifi.

Innsbruck and Kranebitten Camping aground from above (as seen by Alex)

A dining/chilling out room was found in the central utilities building and it was there, encased by the echo-y white walls while eating our delicious Germanic ‘knodels’, that we heard the familiar and friendly drawl that is the Austrlian accent. Speaking quietly to one another were a young couple who eagerly shared their stories and their wine with us. We learned that not only did we recognise where they hailed from (Ballingen in NSW) but, we have friends in common! Zenna (a shortening of Zianna, said like Sienna but with a Z) babysits for Lowanna King and her partner Kevin Doye of Bike2Oz fame (topically the story of riding their bikes from London to Sydney) who are the daughter and son-in-law of my dad’s best friend, Jonathan King (notorious historian, Anglophile, author and family-man). Ah, the world is very small.

Kevin and Lowanna on their amazing way riding from London to Sydney
Spinach knodels (bread dumplings)

The next night our new foursome was expanded upon by Sarah and Steve who used the telltale Aussie “knock, knock, knock, knock, knock (pause) knock knock!” to alert us to their food- and cooking-gear-laden presence outside the locked door. They come from The Gold Coast and have begun their trip in a similar fashion to us: they’ve quit and sold their everything and bought a one-way ticket to Europe. They have been travelling and working and playing and experiencing Europe for nine months already and intend to drive their van and skate their skateboards until their money runs out. An Alleykat approved plan!

We had two after-dinner six-way talks before deciding that our shared last evening in Innsbruck should be spent out together in the beautiful old city. We had dinner and drank a variety of experimental and standard drinks, picked apples and pears from fruit trees fortuitously situated on our journey, searched for a bus home and failing that, hailed a number of taxis until we found one that would take our sextant of Aussie stragglers home for a Sarah-bargained price. We left the campground the next morning in various states of disrepair, armed with each other’s Facebook names (and Alleykat business cards) and with our arms warmed with genuine hugs and well-wishes. Alex and I managed to barter an agreement with the weather (which had begun soaking us in the wee hours of the morning and had continued its wet deluge without any suggestion of it letting up) to have a 17minute dry-ish spell to complete the tent pack up in exchange for a further drenching on our pannier-bag-loaded bikes to the train station.

Notice the gentle ball-cupping?

Relearning Italian for eight days: language schooling and envy.

During our last eight days in the Schengen Zone (not counting the two weeks we’re keeping in reservation for Greece) we are spending our time in Verona, Italy, where famous star-crossed-lovers Romeo and Juliet lived and died in Shakespearean times. Castel San Pietra Camping ground is “possibly the best camping ground in the world” so tentatively awarded by none other than the supremely camping-intimate half of Alleykat, Alex ‘Spruce Moose’ Denham. Thus far we have been fiercly stormed on (we’re talking so wet you may as well be naked in a bath for all the good your weather-proof clothing is providing). Not that this rainy experience has been at all uninspiring, given that we were unprepared for rain sneaking up behind us while we were taking photos, the storm was impressive and effectual: upon our arrival we gazed upon the most tragically romantic city on earth and our sight was blocked by a haze of pollution – how were we to know that the fug of befoulment hid a city as beautiful as it is famous? The storm served a worthy purpose Therefore of completely relieving Verona of its rubbish-burning-cloud of haze, today we delighted in walking through air without creating a plume behind us and a tunnel before us.

Verona: toxic yellow with pollution
Alex ‘Spruce Moose’ Denham

Here in Italy, there is so much to see and to get lost in, so much to eat and have our senses stimulated by, so much language to listen to and gesticular culture attempt to assimilate into. Alex and I both learned Italian in high school – to varying stages of completion year 10 (Katerina) and year 12 (Alexi) – and have mourned the pathetic state of affairs that is language learning in Australia. The limited number of bilingual schools in Victoria dwindles at 12 and elsewhere in Asutralia the dual language program of South Australia was scrapped in a standard move by a Libral government trying to homogenize Australian society. We have not met one person in Europe so far who does not have at least two languages under their literate belts. Most have learned three languages to Alexi’s expertise (end of their high schooling stint) and many continue to add complete languages to their clever brains when they attend University.

If you’re an Australian reading this no doubt your language learning opportinities and expectations are similar to mine: lackluster at the best, and at no fault of the dedicated and patient language teachers but simply due to the meager and pitifully small emphasis placed on learning a second language more than a smattering of times per term (with the possible exception of high-fee paying Private School or Language School students). If you’re not from Australia, you might have had a similarly wishy-washy experience of langauge learning or you may have had a rich and rigorous tutelage in one or more languages in addition to your own. Some people I have spoken with over here have rued their time spent learning English (because it was difficult or boring or not dot them) but none of them have had any difficult conducting a fluid, interesting, engaging conversation with me despite protesting their limitations with the langauge! I am supremely jealous, I may as well have a bright green colour scaling its way along my skin as I speak with them, fumbling with the twenty-or-so words of their language I remember. I understand that in Australia it can seem difficult to pick one language that would be helpful for all students to learn, but in reality, one does not simply learn a language for application in that country, but for the experience and unparalleled challenge of learning and expanding the brain’s capacity in this unique and entirely exceptional way. Language learning and additional language learning has seemingly limitless neurological benefits, not only to mention being able to travel more easily and effectively and effectually in the World.

The first night in Verona, cooking gnocchi

This rant ends as it begun,

Here in Italy, surrounded multilingual English speakers: we have to wrangle with our expectations altogether, but of an entirely different theme: squat toilets! Actually, I’m oblivious to Italian lavatorial practices, but it is certainly a foreign experience for me! After my first ‘go’ where I’ll admit, I got stage fright, I have decided (bravely!) to see them as good practise and preparation for India and any other situation where my jaw fails not to drop at the little dip in the floor where my Australian brain tells me should rest a Dunny Can at the very least!

Squat on me.


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