Week 8: Appreciating European laundry

This weeks assignment isn’t so much a challenge but an acknowledgment. The realization that there are silver linings to be found just about anywhere.

And it revolves around dirty clothes.

Before moving to Switzerland I had lived in about 122 different apartments and houses. In almost all of them I had access to washing machines and dryers IN my living quarters.

And then there was Bern.

Let me explain a little about laundry in Swiss apartments. Often there are no washing machines and dryers in the apartment units. The machines are communal, in a basement, and shared based not on a first-come-first-served basis but on an assigned day of the week.

Our day is Friday. When I first learned we would have one day each week for laundry, my jaw dropped. At four months pregnant I could only imagine the laundering needs of a new little person. I’d heard tell of diaper blowouts and spit-up and what on earth would I do with the casualties of these all week while I waited, like a good little girl, for my assigned laundry day.

The drying room

THEN the real bomb dropped. We would not have a dryer. Yes. No dryer. We have a drying ROOM. A concrete cell strung with clothes line, a moisture-sucking box on the wall and a little plastic drip bucket to collect the water.

Lord help me. When I first arrived, it took a little bit of getting used to.

Sorting (not my favorite thing to do – I’m a throw-it-all-in kind of person), digging up our cleaning supplies from a locked storage unit in the basement, using an electronic key loaded with Swiss Francs to pay for the machine, then bending and stretching to hang five loads of wet clothes over clothes line with a massive pregnant belly, waiting all night for them to dry.

Then Sophie was born and I had to learn how to do all of this with a baby strapped to my chest.

Sophie in the Ergo carrier

Loading and unloading a washer is one thing. But the drying room nearly killed me. Bending over to pick up wet jeans and slinging them over the line. Wet clothes are heavy. My back ached. And it took some time to recover from my C-section. Then there was the worry about pinching Sophie’s limbs or squishing her wobbly head.

Uhg. I really hated laundry. One day to wash and dry a week’s worth of clothes while caring for this fragile little person.

But like all things, with practice I got used to the new routine. And it became just another thing that needed to get done.

A little help was found three months after Sophie was born. She grew out of her bassinet. As I put it down in storage I realized it was the right size and height to use as a laundry basket holder. No more bending all the way to the ground. Bonus! This really saved my back.

But still, laundry day was just that. Laundry. Whatever.

Until last week.

I was feeling a little home sick for the good ol’ U.S. of A. so to kill the funk I started looking for silver linings. I’ve found there’s usually something positive to find in almost anything and thinking about those silver linings tends to help push out the blues.

And there it was. Laundry. My silver lining. And here’s why:

  1. I heart deadlines. Something to push me to finish a task because anyone who knows me knows my skill at procrastination. Friday is now the only day I HAVE to get something done (on my own). So I wake up with a purpose, a job to do. As a new stay-at-home mom, this has become a bigger deal that I ever imagined.
  2. Protecting my free time. It would be tempting to wash clothes all the time. Little loads here and there. This way I can’t. I can spend my time doing other things.
  3. Energy begets energy. Putting effort into walking up and down stairs with Sophie on my chest and laundry under my arm gets my heart pumping. Not quite a workout, but the activity energizes me and encourages me to do more in between loads.
  4. A check on the list. I love to-do lists. Even more than that, I love crossing things OFF to-do lists. Sometimes I’m just a slacker and checking off a task gives me a little boost. It reminds me how good it feels to get something done and encourages me to do more, whether it’s 10 minutes of lifting hand weights or reading a chapter while the little one sleeps. (And YES, put those fun things on your to-do list. To-do’s for your own betterment are as important if not more than housework)
  5. Stains. A little stain remover goes along way. My fears of baby, um, messes, were unfounded. Well there are certainly messes. But none of Sophie’s clothes are stained because I couldn’t wash them Sunday – Thursday.
  6. Protecting fabrics. I’ve heard that drying cycles can damage clothes. Hanging them on the line may protect them, help the clothes last longer.

It’s good to see something as tedious as laundry in a new light. It also reminded me of some other … ehem … issues I’ve had with European clothes washing.

Other mis-adventures in European laundry

In Denmark: In Copenhagen for a semester studying marine biology. I lived with a host family. We also didn’t have a dryer. Nor did we have a drying room. We hung our clothes on clothes line outside. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Denmark on a map, but it’s north. Very north. And it gets very cold in winter. It took me three days to “dry” my jeans in sub-zero weather and then it wasn’t really dry. More like frozen. One at a time, then, I could bring a pair in to put on the radiator in my bedroom.

In France: I was only in Paris for two weeks, so this isn’t really a fair judgement. But who cares. 😉 Six of us packed into a tiny apartment while we trained for international journalism internships. The washing machine never quite washed and the dryer barely blew warm air. Needless to say the smell of half-dirty, wet towels soon out-stunk the cheese.

In Belgium: I was writing for a publication covering the European Union and had a great apartment in Brussels. I had my own cleaning service and a very convenient combination washing machine and dryer. I was so excited to wash off the stench of Paris, I shoved everything I could fit into that machine, turned it on hot and came back to find everything I washed I had actually cooked. Including a pair of jeans. Blue jeans. I have never been one to sort clothes. After that, half of the whites I owned were indigo.

About Tara McLaughlin

I'm a stay-at-home mom to two girls in my boyfriend's hometown of Bern, Switzerland. Life as a new mom in a foreign country has been, in so many ways, rewarding and challenging. I will document that journey here, on Another 52 Weeks.
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8 Responses to Week 8: Appreciating European laundry

  1. kikster80 says:

    Ahhhh, the Swiss laundry system. I’m glad I’ll have a washer and dryer in my new apartment!!

  2. Greg says:

    We are SOOOO spoiled here in America.. We need to learn to appreciate even the small things… especially a washer and dryer! I enjoy reading this, very entertaining.. 🙂

  3. Melanie says:

    Our laundry room is about 6’x6′, contians a washer, dryer, hot water tank and the litter box. If the box hasn’t been cleaned yet the little room stinks to high heaven and there is hardly any room to load and unload the clothes. And we’ve just made things a little more inconvient for ourselves by putting up a baby gate that we have to step over, so we don’t find Max in there one day eating litter. lol Anyway…after reading your adventures in laundry, I will now try to be more thankful for our tiny, cluttered, poo smelling laundry room. 🙂

  4. Heather says:

    I always wanted to write something about bathrooms abroad. There have been more than one bathroom in various countries I have literally walked around stumped inside the bathroom for one reason or another. Can’t figure out how to flush, can’t figure out how to go…you get the drift. The further east you go the weirder things get………

  5. Love these ruminations, Tara. It is the little things, isn’t it?

  6. Chow Bella says:

    Oh yes, I remember that laundry disaster we had on Rue Saint-Sauveur. I think there was mold growing on the walls just before we left. How did we ever all fit into that sardine can of an apartment?? C’est fou, non?

  7. I like this post, enjoyed brussels regards for posting.

  8. B.L.W. Myers says:

    Leading up to our 6-week stay in Sweden last year, laundry was also one of my concerns (we’ve got two, rambunctious, likely-to-get-muddy kids!). Then we arrived, and not only were the machines free (FREE) in the graduate student housing laundry room, but I could reserve a machine for a two hour-slot, or use one of the four open machines. Figuring out all the buttons to program them was a different story…

    There was also a rack for drying in the apartment (folded down off the shower wall), standard dryers with large capacity, a drying room full of contraptions we eventually learned how to use, and these large air dryers that were big enough for all four of us to stand in. So many options. When we returned Stateside, the plain washers and dryers in our complex felt–boring.

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