Every nation has its idiosyncrasies. England has its obsession with the weather. France has extended holidays (also known as public sector strikes). Italians swallow pasta and soft porn. Canadians sport the toque. Immigrants must either accept the national peculiarity, or remain forever outside their adopted society. In Germany that moment has arrived for Mrs. Cat and me – with the nasal shower.
Vorsprung durch Technik did not become the world’s most popular German expression because it’s a meaningless, catchy phrase. ‘Progress through Technology’ is part of this nation’s ethos. Since the days of early industrialist like Borsig and Siemens, Germans have advanced themselves through the innovative use of new technology: steam locomotion, the diesel engine, rocket propulsion, the fluorescent lamp, the electron microscope ... and now the modern, medical thingamajig.
Germany is crazy about devices which improve health and hygiene. Among the most popular instruments is the Zunge-Schaber, a horseshoe-shaped tongue scrapper which many citizens rush home to use whenever they feel a cold coming on. Feeling snuffly? Throat a bit raw? Time to start scrapping. Enema kits also find their way into most bathroom cabinets here, and an annual anal purge is considered an essential part of ones personal hygiene, rather like cutting your toenails. Then there are the extraordinary ‘produce-and-examine’ toilets, with raised porcelain shelf, which were the norm for years. Many older Germans still argue that the design engendered a regime of regular self-examination, which is an individual’s best defense against intestinal disease, water-borne parasites or undercooked sausage.
‘I can’t believe I’m living in a country where this is considered normal,’ whispered Mrs. Cat last night. Her cheeks were flushed. In her hand she clutched a vessel which brought to mind a white plastic willy. Luckily the curtains were drawn. ‘Where do I start?’
Germans consider the Nasendusche – or nose shower – to be an object of neither acute embarrassment or great hilarity. Across this land, from Aachen to Wolfsburg, sensible adults manage to keep a serious face while sticking the little willy up their nose and tilting its balloon-like body. Saline solution then swirls around the nasal passages, dislodging pollen, germs and mislaid spectacles, then gushes out the nearest orifice (usually the other nostril). The trick – as Mrs Cat leaned after spluttering all over the sink and waking the neighbours – is to keep the mouth open and throat closed.
‘That was wonderful!’ she exclaimed, making me wonder if a number of brain cells had been washed away by the cleaning process.
Despite my suggestion that she might like to lie down and reflect on the wisdom of her actions, she then started to irrigate her other nostril. Once again the fluid rushed around her head and then splashed down into the sink.
‘It may look crazy but I do see the sense of it,’ she added.
One regular user whom I know likens the Nasendusche to a trip to the dentist. He avoids both for as long as possible but, in the end, surrenders himself to the inevitable.
‘Both the Nasendusche and the dentist are awkward, awful and horrible,’ he told me, ‘but they are helpful and do the job.’
Before his discovery of the Nasendusche he suffered for years from asthma, bronchitis and a stuffy nose. Apart from antibiotics, only this ‘silly health machine’ now provides him some relief.
Another friend began to suspect that Nasenspülsalzen did more harm than good – at least to his pocketbook. He told me that the leading manufacturer of the device is also this country’s main supplier of ‘health salt’ which is sold in attractive small sachets with the right dosage for a single ‘shower’.
‘These sachets are only available in pharmacies at inflated prices,’ he told me. ‘For example, a box of 50 sachets (2.5 grams of salt each) sells for about €10. That’s €10 for a total of 125 grams of salt – which is about 500 times more expensive that the supermarket price! Of course, Nasendusche salt is medically tested and contains additives like potassium, chloride and bicarbonate. But this is more or less a clever marketing ploy because the medically-effective substance is salt – simple sodium chloride -- and nothing else.’ He concluded, ‘Let’s put it that way: the supplier has found a profitable way to ensure that a great medieval tradition endures today -- when salt awas a real currency.’
After last night’s nasal irrigation, Mrs Cat slept better than she had for months. She woke refreshed and happy. She’s determined to use the Nasendusche again this evening.
As time passes we are embracing more and more German peculiarities. I just hope I can keep her away from the tongue-scrapping Zunge-Schaber...and those unforgettable ‘classic’ German toilets.