Monday, March 30, 2009

It All comes Out in The Wash

One of the most typical sights here in Albania is the ‘Lavazh’ - the car wash. They are everywhere, more ubiquitous than the child cigarette sellers flogging the beat of the city streets.

These car washes though, are human. They consist of 2 –3 lads (usually) with extremely high-pressure hoses. They wash the outside of the car, they wash the underbelly, they open the bonnet & sluice out the engine (is this good for it I wonder??) Not a wheel hub is left unwashed in their quest for a pristine machine.

Then they clean inside the car, they swab down the car mats, nothing is too much trouble. This ritual will set you back the equivalent of $4.

Almost always the car radio is on maximum volume & the lads dance & gyrate as they manoeuvre mud from metalwork with a flick of the power hose.

Yet I rarely get ours done. Is this because I’m British (&, according to the French at least, we’re a slovenly race who soak in our own dirt in the bath)? Is it because I’m not car proud, or can’t be bothered? All of the above probably. It just doesn’t seem important.

But here they are places of worship almost. People queue up patiently for a lavazh despite there being another, a few 100 metres down the road. People worship at this 'shrine to cleanliness' with astonishing commitment & regularity. They even get their clean cars lavazhed. Well, clean by my standards of course….

Another thing you see all the time is shop & café owners wash and mop the road outside their shop, it’s a morning ritual, to sluice it down, preceeding the turning of the 'Hapur' (open) sign. Always a drought-inducing quantity of water is involved. I have discovered this, at least, is a communist legacy. Everyone was responsible for the cleanliness of the area immediately outside his or her shop/café/home. It seems like this has stuck, though it is also a fairly common sight all over southern Europe. It’s a shame the communists' injunction to do ‘litter picking’ didn’t last into democracy however.

They say, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” though I must admit I’ve never really understood that aphorism. Maybe people do it to try & rise above the dust and pollution of a city under rapid and relentless construction. Maybe it’s a surface purification to hide the muck and corruption that lies beneath the surface of this society.

It verges on the obsessive.

I see a man walking along in "Whiter than Persil White" Winklepickers, (oddly defiant choice for a city as dirty as this) stopping by a puddle to clean off his shoes. I see this often, men cleaning their shoes in any surface water available. It strikes me as particularly European. Can you imagine a British man doing this?? I think not.

When I lived in Paris for example, bored shop assistants would openly & minutely observe their image in a mirror, totally unabashed. Correcting, touching up, sometimes just admiring. I think the difference is the Brits never do any of this stuff in public; it’s just not….seemly.

Apartments are cleaned obsessively too. That’s another hygiene thing we Brits are supposed to be bad at - housework. I cannot get my head round the fact that people here are so obsessive about keeping their homes spotless. I mean you couldn’t just eat off their floors; you could perform open heart surgery on them. And people clean everything every day.

Sometimes I move the mops & brooms around in our house a bit to hide the fact from our cleaner that actually I don’t clean in between her visits. I mean, our apartment gets 6 hrs cleaning a week. How dirty can it get in 2 days? But I am embarrassed by my slack standards compared to her. I’m letting the British side down, or reinforcing a stereotype or something….

And yet outside there is rubbish everywhere. People sling it out of the car window as they drive along, they drop it on the pavement as they walk, they sit on the beach & then just get up & walk away from their post-picnic detritus. I don’t get it. And I write this confident that you who read it would think the same, so how come a whole nation behaves like this??

The drain in our road is blocked. It’s been like that for a year. Recently it has got a lot worse. Every time it rains, the whole road floods. It reeks of sewage. It takes two whole dry days to seep away. Now that IS a hygiene issue. But what do people do? They just put stepping-stones along the side in order to traverse it with dry feet.

Maybe it’s because they know nothing will be done, maybe they are resigned to the squalor of the outside environment, but your home & your car, at least you can control those I suppose.

And indeed you can step out in White Winklepickers and defy the dirt.

Meanwhile I will have a long soak in the bath (but only once a week of course….) I will drive a filthy car (confident in the knowledge that it is not hazardous to my health) & continue to shuffle mops in a self conscious domestic musical chairs. I will also invest in a pair of wellies as the drain won't be sorted out anytime soon.

But as for the litter, well ,it’s hard to know where to start….


Iota said...

White winkle-picker wellies? I can see you in a pair of those.

Isn't it strange how even something like litter can be cultural?

fraught mummy said...

The Bosnians are the same. So clean in their houses. Children all immaculate. Mine are always filthy and crawling around in the dirt. BUT, the litter! EVeryone just chucks everything out and it ruins everything. The parks, the rivers, their beautiful countryside. Drives me doolally (as my mother would say).

Great to have another Balkan/Mediterranean blogging mother. Albania and Bosnia don't seem that much different. I'm looking forward to reading more. x

nappy valley girl said...

Weird attitude re the litter, I agree.

We took our car for a very rare visit to the carwash after its little outing to France, as it was filthy from all the salt and grit in the ski resort.

In front of us in the queue was a Brixton rasta-type guy. His car was already immaculate but he went for the full wax, polish and clean cycle so it was even more gleaming when it emerged. We couldn't understand why he bothered, but I guess some people just worship their cars....

Wife in Hong Kong said...

I think you are right about the resignation. When you can't change things you probably end up thinking s*d it, what difference will it make? It signifies the powerlessness of a population that actually likes to take pride in its appearance

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