Read, Write, Run, Roam

Detective RHOB and mystery of John…D’oh! *

It had been a while since my last case, and I wasn’t too broken up about it. I figured the lack of Belgrade Mysteries meant that I was finally understanding this joint. I was no longer searching for clues about ice trays or dumpsters. In fact, I was now able to give directions or help people weigh their vegetables at the Mini Maxi. But just as I thought it was all over, another mystery pulled me back into the fray.

I was having lunch with American visitors when one of them returned from the bathroom. He had a puzzled look on his face, and I knew something was up. In a low voice, he asked, “um…so how to I flush the toilet here?”

Detective RHOB was on the case. I asked, “Can you describe the toilet? I’ll need the approximate height of the tank.” After some discussion, I realized he was talking about something like this:

I solved the case faster than a DC meter maid gives tickets. “There’s a tab on the top right side of the tank,” I said. “Push the right side of the tab and the toilet will flush.” Case closed. But I realized that it wasn’t the first time I’ve been presented with a bathroom brain-twister. Here’s a breakdown for the Balkan travelers presented with a “Dear John” case of their own.

Most toilets here have a dual-flush system. Press the bigger button for, um, bigger events and the smaller button…you get the idea. Here’s an example from an OMV rest stop. Most people could figure this one out, but I’m giving this john extra points for his buddy, “Big Willie.”


With other commodes, the mystery lingers like cevapcici with onions. I encountered the head on the right in Budapest. I thought I had to turn the knob, but nothing happened. (That I know of. I probably caused a small flood somewhere.) After using my detective skills I realized that the lever below was not fixed as I had previously thought. Another mystery solved. I was becoming an expert on Balkan toilets. And my guidance counselor said I’d never amount to anything…(Actually, he said I’d regret not taking typing class. FALSE.)

My detective skills were no match for the loo on the left, but it gets an honorary mention for being overly complicated.  There’s a large panel, a lever, and a sort of aerodynamic design to it. Someone is spending a lot of time thinking about designing toilets. Then again, I devoted a lot of time photographing and writing about them. Who am I to judge?

Finally, there’s the deepest, darkest mystery of them all: pit toilets and the people who install them. If confronted with a pit toilet in the Balkans, stay away. Or bring tissue, soap, and quads of steel. I hesitated to post this, but I didn’t get my detective rank by turning away from the ugly cases. Sorry if you’re eating lunch right now.

The Balkans are full of mysteries large and small, so I’ll keep my detective hat on a little longer. I never know when I’ll open the door to a new case.



*  Confused or non-native English speakers, the post title is a play on “John Doe,” the legal name given to an unidentified person, and the word “John” which is slang for toilet. I can’t get away from puns, sorry.


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