New North
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New North

Why is There a Measuring Jar Next to the Toilet?

…and other cross-cultural conundrums

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The day Gina was coming over for dinner, I spent my morning in mild panic. We had met in Pilates a couple of months back, and had hit it off pretty much as soon as we both activated our T zones and pulled up our pelvic floors. She was younger than I am by a couple of years — but mature enough to hold a conversation about responsible consumption, while being completely down for drinking wine out of the bottle & dancing to YouTube videos. It was the perfect combination, if you ask me.

We went out for coffee a couple of times, got waxing appointments together, and even double dated with each other’s partners. She texted me when she found a new sweet potato recipe, and I thought of her when I saw the perfect tights at Lorna Jane.Our friendship was cocooned in a sweet spot; a honeymoon phase for same sex platonic relationships, where you know that you really like this person, but you haven't shown them what you look like without hair product just yet.

On one Wednesday, we made a plan to go swimming in my building pool. The day was warm without being downright diabolical, and we hadn't met in a while.

“Why don’t you stay for dinner tonight,” I said to her over the phone, “I know a great lemon and dill pasta recipe I want to try out.”

“See you at 5,” she said “I’ll bring dessert.”

And so it was settled.

That’s when I was faced with a very important decision. What do I do with the measuring jar next to the toilet?

To give you a bit of a background story, I had arrived in Australia a little under a year ago. Moving here was exciting — there was so much to learn and such easy access to Asparagus. The beaches were wildly exotic and people pitched tents pretty much anywhere, no matter how remote, and grilled their meats and drank their beers.

But there is one thing I couldn't get behind, or more accurately, that I couldn't let get behind me — Toilet paper. I tried to accept it — you know — tried to be Roman in Rome, roll with the punches, live like the locals. But it lead to great deals of anxiety and strong surges of homesickness for a simpler time of jet sprays. I was renting here, so getting a plumber to put one in was a pleasure I only had in private wet dreams involving bathroom fittings.

The next best thing, as any Indian will tell you, is a mug of water. But finding a bathroom mug akin to the Indian counterpart was frustratingly hard, and the only thing that came remotely close was the plastic measuring jars at the Reject Store. I bought two, one for each of my bathrooms, telling myself that the litre markings are only a small price to pay when it came to satisfying my needs. The heart, or in this case the bottom, wants what it wants.

With Gina coming over, I was at that crucial decision-making juncture that adulthood is infamous for. Do I leave my water hygiene needs and my toilet culture open for discovery; or do I feign homogenization and subtract the jar from the bathroom landscape, leaving behind the more culturally accepted toilet roll.

Being in a foreign country opens up a large can (or jar) of cultural differences that you don’t always know how to handle. Its a confusing time to say the least, and is fraught with doubt on a debilitating and vast scale.

Soon after getting here, I was faced with another one of those moments of disarming doubt, and it involved procuring a drivers licence. I had been driving for close to a decade in India, so I assumed it will be relatively fuss-free. That was until I took my first driving lesson here, and subsequently failed a couple of driving tests, testing not just my road skills, but my fragile immigrant pride altogether.

When my examiner handed me my fail chit and asked me, “Do you know why you failed?,” like a straight-faced doctor asking you if you have phlegm when you cough, I appeared unaffected, but actually I was swallowing back flaming tears.

I find myself in a jumble of road-sign triggered anxiety, even today.

“Wait, who has right of way?”

“And what about merging?”

In India, when you see a driver trying to merge onto a main road from a corner street, you’d better step on the brakes. If he’s on a two-wheeler, more so on a run-down Bajaj scooter, you must quickly plummet them. He will, with utter disregard for any other life form including his own, merge into the road, like a playful amazonian rivulet into deep weed-riddled waters. He puts the onus entirely on you, to decide if the two of you live.

Indicating during lane changes? Ha!

In Australia however, there are clear rules. The merger must wait for the mergee, the person to the right has right of way in a roundabout, and pedestrians must be championed like earth-walking gods. If you sound your horn, you run the risk of making at-least 4 people catapult skywards, back arched and hair standing tall, like a cat confronted by a skittish baby lizard.

Another gaping dark hole — life in the outdoors. Folks here regularly pack themselves and their children into cars, offloading themselves onto the many national parks, riversides and rugged coasts. Toddlers tackle waves and Goannas are always made to feel welcome. Every individual owns a library of tents and outdoor hats (some of which come with their own mosquito nets), multiple picnic blankets and Eskys, motor homes to carry everything in and, most importantly — nonchalance & impossibly long limbs.

The outdoors isn't a pre-meditated event or a splashy holiday, it’s a part of the everyday here. If you wish to partake, it will often be demanded of you to wake before sunrise, respond to spontaneous barbecues with deep-seated sureness and fend for yourself among omnipresent redbacks with poise. I’m still learning, and often find myself short, but isn't that what neurons need to flourish?

So what did I do that Wednesday evening? Nothing. I let my peculiar measuring jar be, exposed and radical, with all its measurement markings. In my own way, it was an emblem of my journey with self-acceptance, a flag bearer of my efforts to learn and grow, but also to show more of myself.

By the time Gina left that evening, we’d had an epic night, adding another brick into our new-friendship wall. We’d picked dill together, eaten obscene portions of pasta and laughed until we’d peed. I’m not sure if she even noticed, but I did.

I noticed how I stood tall and toilet-proud, as we all should.

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