Yer a Peein'

...in which Ashley defends his manhood against German bathroom habits.

When The Heike and I packed our stuff to move to Germany, I threw out most of my clothes. The boxes we filled cost nearly $200 each to ship overseas, so we necessarily limited our belongings to only the essentials: My complete seasons of Starsky and Hutch on DVD, my vast collection of Dennis the Menace paperbacks, and my antique Batman bubble bath bottles. (Germany has been undergoing a kitsch famine for many generations now, and I knew I’d need to cling to few American crap culture talismans.) No room for my “perfectly good” leather bomber jackets, bowling shirts or the rest of the tattered, Salvation Army wardrobe. I would start fresh with a new look.

This was to be my great, mid-life reinvention, after all. I pictured my lifestyle in Europe having more of a Camus flavor, replete with drab winter top coats and stylish scarves, scribbling philosophical notions with a fountain pen, cigarette in full Bogart. I knew the scarves were essential to this look, having previously learned to differentiate the Americans from the Europeans in airports by virtue of their neckwear. Until I started playing tourist in the EU, a scarf had never once touched my neck. My parents had grown up sweating in cotton fields, so suggesting a scarf to kids rushing out to build snowmen wasn’t part of their training, and none of the Holt children knew scarves existed outside of TV Christmas specials. I’ve since been made to understand by other, scarf-advocate parents how lucky we all were to survive.

The trouble was that we arrived in Germany at the start of yet another extended Covid lockdown, making clothes shopping in the stores impossible. No problem; I could quarantine in my jammie pants for the foreseeable and do my Cumberbatch cosplay later. The one thing I needed was underwear, having ass-scratched considerable holes in the classics I packed with my View Master reels. So we risked the currently-shambolic state of online ordering to secure some new boxer briefs to cover my shame around the house. And when they arrived, wouldn’t you know it, they came packaged with yet another personal identity crisis to add to my collection.

The drawers had no flap. I don’t know if this is a European thing or one of the many general trends I’ve missed in my isolation, but there’s no doggie door to let my pooch out. The undies have only this sealed sack in the front, which restrain my particulars with no hope of release. This means a tinkle requires full disclosure of my no-go zone as my pants open completely to let Pinkie peek over the waistband, a huge inconvenience. And yes, as problems go in this some-folks-have-to-carry-around-bags-of-their-own-pee world of ours, this one is easily fixed with the purchase of new tighties with the required emergency exit. But first I have to ponder exactly why the idea of a flapless existence seems threatening to my manhood and my sense of American pride. And you’re invited!

One thing Americans take for granted is their freedom to pee. As Heike pointed out during her stay in the States, the two things America has going for it is there is always a public restroom and always a beverage available. We are in a constant state of kidney flush. As vacationing Americans discover, Europe provides drinks in thimble-sized servings and is plenty stingy with the pisspots. Even the dependable fast food restrooms may require payment to enter. Often this payment is delivered to an attendant, and often, depending on the neighborhood, the look of this attendant suggests that additional payment could result in services above and beyond wiping the seat. I’ll go so far as to say that much of Europe provides far more opportunities to relieve one’s libido than one’s bladder. Public restrooms are so scarce that carrying around the bag of pee starts to look appealing.

Which makes it all the more confusing that, if indeed this is a European trend, the entombed crotch of these squeezers creates an additional delay for the local man in need of a squirt. By the time the Euro locates a restroom, you’d think he’d want to unload his anguish without having to completely disrobe. Is there some kind of cultural denial of Nummern eins und zwei going on here? The restriction of shitters? The underwear that acts as a chastity belt? Listen, buddy, I’m from AMERICA! And ease-of-whizz is enshrined in the Constitution probably! You little commie pee-holders can’t tread on my God-given right to drain my sorrows wherever I please! Why do you think our abundance of urinals and toilet tanks are branded “American Standard?”

And while I’m wrestling with being offended as an American (which I realize is a redundancy), I also consider that my manhood is somehow being injured. Because I remember that this country, which shamelessly distributes escape-proof underwear, is also a land where most men sit down to pee. I have verified this by polling the locals (Germans enjoy openly discussing their bathroom habits in detail, despite or perhaps because they have so few opportunities to actually relieve themselves). And obviously, men can’t see the point of an underwear flap if said undies are around their ankles. Frankly, this sit-sprinkling trend bewilders me to the point of insult not only because I consider standing up to pee to the very definition of manhood, but because it is also, in my estimation, the only verifiable advantage of being born male. We are dumber, more violent, and cannot give birth to more humans, but by god, we can write our names in the snow. Try that, Nancy Kerrigan!

Yes, it’s pathetic and desperate, but Europe has made me aware of this vanity. I remember a social gathering during my first visit to Germany, where I, the only non-Euro present at a holiday dinner, got up from the table to moisten the porcelain. Since the apartment was impossibly small, as most German homes tend to be, my bathroom excursion was audible to everyone sitting at the table a few feet away. They could clearly hear from the titanic splash behind that door that an American Man was among them, a man who stands tall. And rather than feel shame for my noisy release, I took stock of the Sitzpinkler men huddled outside and felt within me one of the few moments of pure male dominance I’ve experienced in my nancy-boy life. “Listen up, Kinder! There’s a REAL MAN in the house! And he’s christening the whole damn bathroom!”

Taking stock of this red, white, and blue arrogance, I’ve started to question my ability to truly become European. Now that I live in Germany, when bundling up for cold weather, I notice that I’m sometimes “forgetting” to wear the scarf. Granted, thanks to my childhood of dangerous neck exposure, I’m just not used to wearing one. But maybe there’s something more Freudian at work here, a subconscious rejection of the scarf because it labels me as one of Them. In my desire to gain acceptance among the Germans, to fulfill my vision of cosmopolitan, pseudo-intellectual style, perhaps I fear foregoing my crude, American posturing, abandoning the Cowboy Way. Perhaps I fear that the others will look at me, resplendent on the train platform in my duffer’s cap and neatly-wrapped, tartan scarf and say, “Now, there’s a man who sits down when he pees.”

I can only hope I have a convenient flap available when I have to prove them wrong.