It's the bathrooms. Nothing is more different than the bathrooms. Typically, they are places of alone time and privacy that beg for a certain level of creature comfort. But in Italy they're just different.
It's not that the Italian standard of bathrooming is below that of the U.S., to say that would be untrue as well as somewhat inaccurate. It's just a different standard that is upheld... Differently.
It's a gamble, toilet roulette, and (forgive the pun) a crap shoot.
It's such an intimate affair, going to the bathroom. I think if we all had our druthers we would only do our busines in soundproof, vacuum sealed, industrial ventilated, 300-thread-count toilet paper supplied, Hoover Damn suction powered,private locales.
But this is not the case in the States, and certainly not in Italy.
Before one can even remark on the state of affairs in an Italian restroom one must first make it into one.
A luxury most americans take for granted is not worrying if they have exact change... For the toilet.
Many bathrooms in Italy are guarded by stern looking Italian matrons with a small change dish in front of them. Like they just finished singing pavarotti in the subway.
It is common courtesy to deposit a couple Euro in the dish before entering but often, by the time one gets to the bathrroom, there is often not enough time to hunt down exact change if it is not readily available in one's pocket.
It seems like you only come across the pay toilets when you are desperate, never when you have the luxury to "shop around."
Often times some mumbled half Italian apologies and dramatic shrugging are enough to get you by the guards.
In every bathroom in Italy it seems that the toilet paper is an infrequent occurence at best, and the bathroom doors couldn't suppress the sound of a mouse fart nevermind a human one.
The toilet paper doesn't even come in a roll. It comes in individual servings. Like napkins. Not even normal size napkins. Barbie napkins.
Napkins so small that a university degree in origami seems necessary to successfully complete this mission.
I am not sure why Europe has been slow to embrace the roll. They were ahead of us on so many things, one might think that toilet tissue on a roll would be a no brainer.
Not so much.
It is for this reason, plus dozens of horribly awful personal bathroom experiences, that I travel with both portable seat covers and a mini travel roll of my own toilet paper.
I am an international toilet boy scout.
I think in general that most of us want the rest of us to believe that when we enter the bathroom, it is to go number one.
The last thing any of us want in the bathroom is to make a sound that betrays that non-truth.
Something that helps prevent sounds is a high water level in the toilet. This is key for a quiet and subtle completion of the task.
But the water level in Italian toilets is typically low. So low that a normally surrepticious act actually sounds like you are throwing a bowling ball into a pool.
What follows this sound is a moment of panic followed by several moments of complete silence as one waits, foolishly thinking that instantaneous complete silence can void the sounds made immediately prior.
But really, what is the big deal?
Everybody in there knows what you're doing. And while they may not know the exact specifics of your situation, its not like they would be completley caught off guard if they found out.
He did WHAT in there?
Had they walked in on you taking a crap in the sink, that might be another story.
The other fear of many toilet patrons is leaving any evidence of the previous mission behind. Everyone's goal is to make it a black ops mission. This never happened, you never saw me.
In order for that to be the case it requires a toilet with a strong flush.
The fear of course being that after that moment of instantaneous eye contact, the individual would enter the bathroom, see the evidence and silently curse your unknown name while recalling your face.
Or maybe that's just my paranoia.
As mentioned, about half of these issues can be rectified by the porting of ones own paper products.
As for the sounds, aside from bringing a trumpet and playing When the Saints Go Marching In while you do your business, there's not much one can do to distract a potential audience.
Unless you walked in with a bowling ball bag.
That might work.