Showering in a Danish closet

We all need to keep clean, right? No? Oh well, I try to anyway. It’s how I was raised. As a child the bath was the place that acted much like a sheep-dip where Mums could dunk the kids for a while, although most nights we would stay in the water so long that our fingers resembled raisins and the water was lukewarm at best. Growing up in South Africa, as I did, we took the bath for granted, as every bathroom had one….and a sizeable one at that. The more well-heeled would have a bath and a shower in the same room. Of course there was always a toilet as well just to complete the experience. It was as I sprouted into a lean and hungry adult that I started to favour the deluge of the shower over the decadence of a bath. Perhaps it had something to do with the emphasis on saving water, as there were many summers during those days when water was in short supply. Panicked home owners were advised to place a brick in their toilet cisterns to save on the water bills. I’m trying hard not to remember the foam that was sprayed into the toilet bowl in an effort to save water between flushes by disguising the fact that someone else had made a prior deposit.

Our first house had just such a family bathroom, but with the shower over the bath, which was also acceptable. It was pure luxury to move to our house in the country that had an ‘en-suite’ bathroom. These rooms adjoined the master bedroom and were reserved for the parents. The typical en-suite had a shower and a toilet, but no space for a bath. That suited me just fine. If someone wanted a bath they would use the family bathroom and if the kids needed the toilet in the meantime they would use the one in the en-suite, but on pain of death if they messed up the hallowed ground so coveted by the parents. It was no surprise, therefore, when we emigrated to England and found that the en-suite bathrooms in the newer houses were also small, but the family bathroom still made up for the inadequacies of the en-suite.

It’s interesting how we take certain things for granted in life… having a decent sized bathroom. I was therefore shocked, when I moved in to my rented apartment in Copenhagen to find that the ‘bathroom’ is no bigger than a walk-in cupboard (or closet for the Americans). The term ‘WC’ is still used to this day in Europe to describe the most private room in the house. Apparently ‘WC’ is short for ‘Water Closet’. In Denmark the origin of the term becomes clear. The ‘bathroom’ is literally the size of a closet. It is in here that everything happens to do with water and personal hygiene. The designers of the apartments in Denmark seem to have contempt for the concept of a bathroom or even a window in the bathroom, giving the steam and the aroma no place to go. ‘OK’, you say, ‘but at least there’s a shower and a toilet’. Well yes, there is, but not as we know it. The toilet is stuck in the corner facing the wall such that anyone taller than myself would have to knock a hole through the wall to accommodate their knees when sitting there. There’s a basin, but no place to put any soaps, shampoos or shaving creams except on the basin itself.

And the shower? That’s where the whole idea falls to pieces. The shower is mounted on the wall in the small space between the basin and toilet. Making clever use of a shower curtain, the toilet doesn’t get wet while the shower is in use….but that’s the only thing in the closet that doesn’t get wet. The other curtain draws across the space in front of the door that opens outwards into the apartment. The idea is that the water cascades down onto the floor and disappears down a drain under the basin. Now this poses a few problems. The first is that I can’t be standing in the curtained-off area in front of the basin when I turn on the shower taps. To do so would be to risk heart-failure when sprayed by the first blast of icy cold water. So I have to draw both curtains, stand outside the door and reach an arm gingerly through the curtains to turn the taps. The next challenge is to get undressed in the doorway of the WC without the neighbours risking heart-failure through seeing me in my birthday suit. Why would they see me? Because in true Danish fashion, there are no coverings of any kind on the windows. Not that I expect any of the residents in the opposite block of apartments to be scanning the windows of my block for activity at 7 in the morning, but you never know. I scan their windows just to check that they’re not looking. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Dropping my clothes on the floor, because there’s nowhere else to put them, I duck quickly between the curtains, stopping myself just before colliding with the basin. If I close my eyes at that point, I can imagine that I’m in a spacious shower, dedicated to that purpose alone. I can almost achieve that image if it wasn’t for the sodden shower curtain sticking to my leg as it’s pushed inwards by a mysterious draft of air from God-knows where. It’s only when I start to shampoo my hair and the soap trickles down into my eyes that the real trouble starts. I turn, eyes shut tight, to rinse the soap from my hair when my naked bottom comes into contact with the ice cold porcelain of the basin, causing me to jolt in the other direction as if shocked by a taser. My foot lands on the edge of the shower curtain, pulling it down and ripping it from the rail, breaking a few curtain rings in the process. Realising my mistake, I stumble backwards, tripping over the shower curtain on the other side. With nothing to stop me, my momentum carries me stumbling past the curtain where I thump down wet and miserable on the toilet. I reflect,with relief, that I had the good sense to close the toilet lid before showering, otherwise I might have ended up wedged naked in the toilet bowl unable to reach up to turn off the shower taps… scratch that. I could reach the shower taps even if I were wedged in the toilet bowl. The room is just that small.


Shower over, the task is then to use the obligatory window-scraper, provided in every Danish wet-room closet almost as an apology by the designers, to scrape water from everywhere in an attempt to move it all towards the floor drain.  This ensures that anyone else wanting to use the toilet after my shower won’t slip and break their neck. Come to think of it, if someone did slip and break their neck in that room, their body would be left in a partially upright position, as there’s simply not enough space to lie down in there.


© 2016

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