WTF Wednesday: Showers in London

Posted on
Dec 7, 2011
Posted in: Rants and Raves, WTF

There are plenty of things in life that are beyond my understanding. The entire field of Physics, for one. The enduring appeal of Two and a Half Men, for another. Grooming your dog to look like another animal. The fact that Snooki published a NY Times best seller (sweet Lord in heaven, how? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND). But perhaps the biggest mystery that I’ve encountered thus far is this: How can a city as advanced as London not understand the concept of shower curtains?

I’m constantly amazed by how efficient and logical things are across the pond. Like how, in the London subway, everyone stands on one side of the escalators and the people who want to race up or down do so on the other side. There is quite literally a passing lane on the escalator. This is in stark contrast to say, how we ride escalators here in America: we cram on as though it’s the last lifeboat leaving a sinking ship, fumbling with seventeen or so shopping bags, two coats, and some small animal in a pet-carrying case (let’s go with a chinchilla) and then we stand, utterly motionless, until we reach the top or bottom of the escalator. We then throw ourselves onto terra firma, after which everyone stands around looking as though they’ve just survived a war because THE STAIRS WERE MOVING.

I’m not pointing fingers. I do it, too. Escalators are SCARY. Plus, why use your muscles when the machines will do the work for you? It makes no sense.

But that’s just one of the many miraculously efficient things that go on in London. The subway system, though a Victorian relic that should prove to be an unnavigatable maze for any directionally challenged American (hi!) is surprisingly easy to figure out. Everyone is very polite, no one ever cuts in line, and if you look the least bit lost, ten young men with delightful accents will magically appear and give you directions, all the while calling you “love”. It’s really glorious.

Really, there’s only one thing I’ve encountered in the entire capitol that doesn’t meet these same standards of efficiency and charm: the damn showers.

Take a look at the bathroom in the last hotel we stayed at in Bloomsbury. It was actually a lovely place – breakfast was plentiful, the staff was helpful, and our room was bigger than a broom closet. But the shower looks like it was designed by someone who’s never actually had to take one. In lieu of a shower curtain, they have a pane of glass that covers half of the tub. Directly opposite this was a lovely little shelf where you could place all of your sundries that you wished to saturate with water.

It was literally impossible to bathe without sending several dozen gallons of water on to the bathroom floor (note the copious quantities of towels everywhere). I took to crouching right up against the wall underneath the shower head, trying to not spray water everywhere, wondering how a place that makes GERMANY LOOK DISORGANIZED hasn’t figured out that water gets things wet.

It’s not like shower curtains are incredibly pricey or complex. They’re plastic taps that hang from the ceiling. DO YOU HERE ME, LONDON? YOU ARE FROM THE COUNTRY THAT INVENTED EATING CAKE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY. DO YOU KNOW HOW BRILLIANT THAT IS? Seriously. This is child’s play by comparison.

I suppose I shouldn’t pick on the English exclusively for this. Other countries have missed the boat when it comes to shower curtains, too. I’ve been in hotels and hostels in Italy, Sweden, Norway, and Spain that have had similar arrangements. I once encountered a shower in Hungary that consisted of – I kid you not – a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor, and a hose. But for some reason, I expect a little more of the English. They’re so damn reasonable. Couldn’t they have figured out that water doesn’t stay where you ask it to?

Seriously, WTF, London. You’re better than this.

Leave a Comment

  • I discovered this style of enclosure while house-hunting in North Yorkshire. There are people who willingly install these in their homes. It was hard enough to deal with in our hotel. WTF indeed.

  • Ha, I totally agree. It’s bizarre!

  • kat

    in theory the escalators on the DC Metro work the same way. it’s an unofficial rule- wmata even had a cheesy ad campaign a few years ago with made-up metro jargon (it’s DC! we love our jargon!) slowpokes on the left were deemed “esca-lefters”. it didn’t stick but the sentiment endures!

  • Jessie

    Add Portugal to the list…

  • Janet T

    While I understand this post is about London and shower curtains (or lack thereof), I wholeheartedly agree about not understanding physics, two and a half men, or anything Snooki………I do however kind of like the creativity of the women who make their dogs look like bison and horses and whatnot. I mean, who looks at their dog and thinks “it could look like a butterfly”?

  • Félix

    It’s not a sliding door?

    • I wondered the same thing. Looks like a sliding door to me. Geraldine… no way you missed the fact that the second piece of glass slides… right? xx

  • Colleen

    I can’t stand shower curtains! They don’t keep heat in the shower, and you end up shaving over goosebumps the whole time.

    • Dave

      And having NO curtain, and half a door keeps heat in how?

      • Colleen

        I can’t say since I have never showered with half a shower door, but I can imagine the result would be ten times worse. I somehow missed that part in the post.

  • Andi

    It’s true. I lived in London for a year and thankfully, my shower did not have this arrangement but every single one of my friend’s showers had this half a pane of glass to serve as a shield from the water. I learned to just accept this along with conkers, Christmas pudding, and chavs.

  • First, I LOVE your blog. As for the shower, I lived in Paris for a while and had the same experience. My husband is German and this arrangement is common all over Europe. The only difference, I presume, is that most Europeans will turn the water on and off, rather than keeping it on for a full shower like Americans do. That reduces the water use by quite a bit, and since Europeans clearly are used to being cold in the shower, they don’t mind the half-wall. Also, the little hand-held sprayer isn’t meant to be used while hooked on the wall. Like you I prefer a “real” American shower!!

  • Melanie

    This reminded me of Germany. When I was there, they had shower curtains, but they also had baths with slanted sides. The top of the tub is normal size, but the bottom of the tub was about a foot narrower than the top. The one night I wanted to actually sit and relax in a bath, it was like my butt cheeks were in a vice grip. I just laughed about how when I stood up, the tub may come with me.

  • houseoffools

    We rented an apt in London (not VRBO) and the shower was exactly the same way-sans curtain!!! I thought the owners were just idiots and had neglected to put one up. I even mentioned it in my review of the place afterwards. I didn’t know it was a regional thing. Guess they weren’t idiots after all, just weird.

  • Jennifer McGuire

    I could be wrong – but I think the Brits tend to take baths rather than showers – which might explain it.

  • Hilarious post! I am one of those poor souls who tries to use a left passing lane on escalators in America, and almost always I get dirty looks from people who have to move their shopping bags and/or kids aside to let me through. I know I’m already moving, but if I go up the stairs I can move so QUICKLY! Sounds like I need to move to London.

  • Laura

    UGH! I had this in a house I rented in St. Louis – the landlord told me it was “European,” as if I was going to be one of those people who will automatically be impressed and think it must be superior to our unsophisticated way of doing things here in America. Seriously SO annoying (and probably dangerous…) having your whole bathroom floor drenched with water after every shower.

    Also, they do this in France, too.

  • Kristi

    I stayed in a hotel room once in LA that had this same issue, so I guess it’s not entirely confined to London.

  • Nicola

    Not wishing to court controversy here (I’m English and far too polite…), but the problem with the aforementioned shower is not the curtain (or lack thereof), it’s the stupid positioning of the shower head; which must have been really annoying. While most showers that I’ve seen here in the UK do have glass screens, the majority have the shower head positioned much higher up the wall parallel to the glass = nice hot shower with minimal water spillage.

    Wow, I am so pleased that after avidly reading your blog for so long, I popped my commenting cherry on such a significant and worthwhile matter!

    • Everywhereist

      Nicola – indeed, losing one’s commenting virginity on a such worthwhile matter is far better than having tittered it away while drunk on one of my crappier posts. 🙂 And I appreciate a perspective coming from someone who is actually English. Now, let’s talk about those little chocolate covered caramel biscuits and why we can’t get them over here in the states …

      • houseoffools

        “little chocolate covered caramel biscuits” Sounds like a smaller version of a Twix chocolate bar.

      • Nicola

        Yes, I’m so pleased I waited 😉 Do the little chocolate biccies look like this? I take a disproportionate amount of pleasure in even the tiniest of victories over bureaucracy, so if you’d like to start a contraband confectionery smuggling ring, count me in! 🙂

        • Liz

          Mmm, I remember Cadbury’s made a lovely chocolate caramel biscuit (Twix doesn’t compare). I found them once in a grocery store in Pittsburgh, but they were stale ;(

  • Lyn Never

    I lived in Sweden for a year when I was a teenager, and the downstairs shower in my host family’s (very nice, late-70s-era suburban) house was a handheld nozzle on the laundry room wall with a drain in the middle of the floor. It had a soapdish, was just outside the sauna, and nobody stopped me, so I’m pretty sure I was supposed to bathe there.

    A few years later I did a five week tourist stomp through Europe, and if I ever encountered a hotel shower that did not involve getting either the sink or toilet wet I don’t remember it. On one memorable occasion in Germany I turned the water on and 30 seconds later my roommate yelled to me that it was coming into the room under the door. I gave up, dumped the water out of my toiletry kit, and went to bed.

  • Fitz

    The picture shows two panes of glass, which to me, means one of those panes slides back. I’m assuming you tried to slide it back.

    • Everywhereist

      Fitz –

      I think that’s a shadow on from the edge of the glass pane, which makes it appear as though there are two glass panes. Had there been two panes, then yes, I would have tried to slide one back. While my blog often suggests the contrary, even *I* am not that stupid. 🙂

  • Um, I’m having trouble understanding what the problem is here – what sort of a showers are you all having that you end up with water all the way down the other end of the tub? Maybe it’s just a matter of what you’re used to …

    I thought the two sides of the escalator thing was universal. When we were in Zurich they even had painted feet either next to each other or one in front of the other to show which side was which.

    • Everywhereist

      Mostly naked water calisthentics. The point is, if I WANT TO DO THEM IN MY HOTEL SHOWER, I SHOULD BE ABLE TO WITHOUT GETTING EVERYTHING WET. Also, have shower aerobics not caught on in Europe yet?

      • My bad, we must be behind the time here in Aus too – I have most definitely not tried water calisthenics or shower aerobics. Once again the US is leading the way 🙂 Thank you for setting me straight! (or completely broken and crooked, which is what I’ll be after trying the above new crazes) 😉

  • Lisa

    Here in NYC we kind of do the ‘stand to one side while leaving space for those that are in a hurry to pass’ thing when the escalator is not crowded.

    Taking the stairs would make sense but, running down MOVING stairs: riske and fun. We can’t seem to keep still once the momentum gets going. We even find it REALLY uncomfortable to have to stop and wait at the curb to cross the street – gotta keep move while waiting for the light. Besides if we get tired of running on the escalator we could always stop – but still be moving. Minimum amount of time wasted.

    • Laks

      Yes. Definitely the same in NYC. If you stand on the way though, people are not so polite as in London to keep to themselves and wait behind you. They command you aside. But don’t know which side is the passing lane in London. Corresponds to the driving habit? Here in NYC, left side is the passing lane in escalators.

  • JUST had a friend return from Italy and that is exactly what she said.

    I asked, “Well, tell me alllll about it!”

    Her first remark?

    Oh, my God. The showers. They were so, just so, well…odd. I mean no curtain, no nothing. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to figure that Italian showering stuff out!”

    We are still talking about it two weeks later.

  • This cracked me up. But don’t forget about South Korea! One of the richest and most technologically-advanced countries in the world… and they don’t even have SHOWER STALLS. Yes, your shower is a drain in the bathroom floor, with the shower head attached to the wall. Needless to say, everything in the bathroom gets, uh, soaking wet. How do people live like this?!

    • Laks

      It’s the same all over Asia if I’m not wrong except for few hotels catering to western tourists. People though are used to that so that can live with it without a second thought.

  • My host family’s shower was like this when I went to France a while back. I flooded the bathroom the first time, but caught onto turning the water on and off and actually moving the showerhead to rinse off faster. My bathroom right now (in Japan) has a shower curtain, but I still use the aforementioned method. I figure it saves time and water. As for the escalator thing, I think I’ve lived in Tokyo for too long. It bothers me when people take up the whole width to lay out a little picnic and dally around.

  • Christina

    I am so in agreement with you on all of the above. Seriously, Two and A Half Men, not funny at all.

    In all my travels in Europe, it constantly baffled me why there is this half piece of glass. Seriously, they couldn’t just say, lets complete the look and glass it all in or as you mentioned, a curtain would be great.
    My favorite shower was in Amsterdam. It was completely encased in glass, but the glass also opened up into the actual room. Every time I showered, I felt like I was giving my husband a peep show, which I guess I was. I just wish he would have dropped a couple of dollars.

    Lastly, and I’m not sure if you’ve covered this, but what’s up with European toilet paper? Even at the nicest hotels, I’ve felt that I was rubbing sandpaper on me bum. Now, I always travel with wet wipes to better protect the lady bits. I always thought that I could make a killing by becoming a toilet paper distributor in Europe. The angels would sing if everyone over there could get some two ply charmin.

  • Christina

    Oh, I forgot to agree with the escalators too. What is it about Americans and the need to stop at the top of the escalator. Helloooo….moving stairs, the rest of us have no where to go.

  • Molly

    One of the places I lived in London had a shower like that, and I have to admit it didn’t bother me much. There was relatively little spillage, and it was definitely nice taking a bath with that screen instead of a shower curtain.

    Geraldine, I think perhaps you just flail too much in the shower. There, I said it.

    Also, for the most part I’ve found that proper escalator etiquette is fairly universal in cities that have people who actual commute by metro, though the residents of London seem to be particularly adept at it. I saw a website once that had the following joke (paraphrasing, of course, I can’t find the site anymore): “Riding DC’s escalators are like politics: On the right, conservatives; On the left, progressives; Standing in the middle, make up your goddamn mind.”

    • Everywhereist

      “Geraldine, I think you flail too much in the shower.”


  • Liz

    During a month-long stay in England about 10 years ago, my flat had a shower stall (no bathtub) that had a shower curtain, but it was made from cloth. And the shower was in the corner of the bathroom, so it only had two walls around the shower. The water sprayed directly at the cloth curtain, so the entire bathroom still ended up drenched. It quickly explained why there was a large drain in the bathroom floor, in addition to the shower drain…

  • “Everyone is very polite, no one ever cuts in line, and if you look the least bit lost, ten young men with delightful accents will magically appear and give you directions, all the while calling you “love”. It’s really glorious.”

    Oh my goodness, that is so true. It brings back such wonderful memories of London!

    We went to St. Martin/Martaan and we had a similar issue. Picture this: a tub, a shower head that was at chest height, no curtain and a mirror on the opposite wall. I had no clue what to do. The week was spent standing in the tub, either holding the shower head while trying to soap up or bending way down to get underneath it, and laughing at how ridiculous I looked in the mirror.

    This was the same trip that we found out they would only change your sheets if you asked them (a week in sandy sheets sucks by the way), my husband gets very, very sea sick and also burns easily, especially on a nude beach. Yay honeymoon!

    • Everywhereist

      Sweet heavenly father – if there had been a mirror in which I could have seen myself showering I would probably have laughed until I cried. Or cried until I laughed.

  • Smoorsy

    The link to the photo of a DOG SHAPED LIKE A BUFFALO was amazing. I just emailed it to everyone I know. Thank you, WTF Wednesday!!

  • Nicky

    Noooooooo we hate shower curtains here in Blighty. They stick to you when they’re wet and you can’t clean them. Give me a straightforward pane of glass any day. However, there is deffo something with the position of your showerhead.

  • You would hate the average Korean apartment shower – there’s a shower head above the sink, and a drain in the floor. On the plus side, you can brush your teeth and shower at the same time, which is kind of awesome.

  • Ann

    I’m fascinated by that shower! Yeah, I think I would flail too much for that too. Maybe if it had one of those straight-down “rainshower” type faucets there’d be less splashing. Or if it had a water saver device like we have on ours; my husband cranks it down so the water pressure is pretty low and gentle, while I crank it up for more pressure when I take a shower. Low water pressure might do the trick with minimal splashing too.
    You should do a coffee table (or bathroom reader!) book of showers, tubs, and toilet setups around the world! Ooh, throw spas and saunas in there too and write it off on your taxes, work related expenses! I’d buy it.

  • I’m with you on this one! I manage to leave a lake behind after every shower!!! I’m not sure how the English do it… maybe they sit in the tub?!

  • Andrea

    In the D.C. subway, the have a passing lane on the escalator as well.

  • HaHaHa as an English lady all of this has made my day. At home I have a shower curtain as I can’t stand the half glass thingies. I love the way it is assumed that all of England must have these when, I can assure you, they don’t! Hotels are different.

    I am living in Malaysia at the moment and our apartment has one bath with shower (no curtain, glass or anything) and another room where there is a drain and a shower and everything gets wet. This is know as a “wet room” and you just learn to remove your toilet roll before you shower. Most people here don’t use toilet roll being Muslim they use water so i guess this is why wet rooms don’t phase them.

    I’d say most English people shower now instead of Bath and (shock horror) we are on 3 ply charmin now. Tho I am missing it being in Asia 🙂

    Thanks for a great post and a good giggle.

  • Viv

    Everyone just needs to move to NZ. We have shower cubicles with three fixed walls and a glass door, fastened shut with a magnetised strip. And removable shower head. Booyeah. Much better IMO than a mildew-covered shower curtain.

    Having grown up in Asia myself, I personally hated the wet rooms, but it’s a ‘cultural’ thing to have a no-frills bathroom, cos spending lots of money on expensive bathroom trimmings is bad luck (the bathroom acts like a whirlpool thingy that sucks the luck literally down the drain, so the smaller and more basic, the better).

  • OMG YES YES YES I hate that about European showers. How in the world do Europeans take showers and not splash all over everything? I don’t want to sound like a decadent American, but surely it’s not too much waste and whatnot to ensure that you have a full pane covering your shower? I think that the ability to keep the water inside the shower is something that you can only develop if you are a European: much like how people who grew up with languages that have masculine/feminine forms just innately know which is which, maybe this non-splash skill set is genetic to the Continent. As it were.

  • Hanna Hales

    Haha, very funny to read this being British. I actually have a ‘half glass’in my flat and never get water anywhere – i think as long as the size is right, i.e wide and high enough, you shouldnt get leaks. I personally think having a pane of glass is a lot better. Shower curtains get very grubby easily and in hotels it looks nice and stylish. I love reading these posts and seeing how others think of Europeans. I didn’t realise we were so efficient in the underground!

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  • Hilarious! I was just talking with my boyfriend the other day about this. He’s English, I’m American. When we’re in the UK, I complain about the showers. When he’s in the States, he complains about the scarcity of good bread in supermarkets.

  • Anisa

    I don’t think in all of my travels to Europe, in any country I’ve been to, that I have encountered one of these types of showers. Although, I don’t remember the shower in London, but I don’t recall it only having a half of a glass door. Very interesting. I will have to take note of this the next time I am over there.

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