By Ricky Skelton
One particularly noticeable cultural difference between Brazil and Europe is in the bathroom. As you enter the room for the first time in any Brazilian dwelling bigger than a shack, the first things that catch the eye are the naked electrical wires protruding from a big hole in the wall. The first thought is always "Ah, they must be having some work done in the bathroom". You see a jagged hole with some loose plaster around it and one metal pipe coming out to a (usually) white plastic cylinder. There is at least one of the three wires that doesnt seem to be attached to anything, just coolly hanging around, drifting in the breeze, waiting to be soldered onto the cylinder somewhere. There is also another rubber tube extending from the cylinder and varying from 3 inches to 10 feet in length. It has a mini-showerhead at the loose end. It takes a long time and a few visits to different bathrooms to become accustomed to this sight and realise that, no - they arent waiting for the big plastic box of an electrical shower to be delivered and fitted, this is what showers look like in Brazil.
While not recommended and probably highly illegal to use at home, Brazilians dont bat an eyelid at this situation. The combination of wires and water doesnt seem to bother anybody, so you have to adapt too. If you are staying in a pousada for your first shower, they will proudly boast of the hot water in their establishment. You turn the tap on and nod approvingly at the power of the water, wave your hand under the jet and go to undress, satisfied that the water is getting warmer. As you stand under the jet for the first time, you wonder why it hasnt actually got that much warmer. So you adjust the tap in small doses, sadly to little effect until you turn it so far it reduces the power to a small trickle. Thats when you notice the water getting hot. Fantastic. Except it only gets hot when there is hardly any water coming out. As hot showers are preferable whatever the weather, you choose the trickle.
But! Then you look up in exasperation and see the magic switch on the cylinder. Aha! Your limited knowledge of the lingo means you turn it to the winter setting and prepare yourself for a lovely hot shower. The trouble is, in Brazil there isnt too much difference between summer and winter.
At some point, you will wonder what the rubber tube is for and examine it. Is it a shower for dwarves? Dogs? So someone else can have a shower outside the curtain at the same time? This results in the tube coming away from the cylinder and you lose what little power there was. Obviously this is more likely to happen while you have shampoo in your hair. The best thing is to go cold for a few minutes while you sort it all out.
At some point in all this, you will also have received your first electric shock, either from touching the top of the cylinder or even the metal tap. This dents what little confidence you had in The Brazilian Shower and will mean that however long you stay in the country, you will forever treat your shower experience like stroking a dog that once bit you. Dont complain. Nobody will understand. Or care. And certainly dont try to fix the situation yourself. Its dangerous. Leave it to a highly untrained, unqualified, expendable professional.
I lived in Brazil for 8 years, this article caused me much amusement because it is true, I experienced all the events described.
Previous articles by Ricky:
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo - always a bad thing?