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Awash in Confusion

Part of the lure of traveling is the break from the mundane aspects of daily life. Sure, seeing amazing scenery is exciting and experiencing other cultures is fascinating, but the opportunity to leave your bed unmade and slack off on housekeeping is a luxurious treat. However, when you rent a home in another country where they speak a different language, those boring activities of life that we do on autopilot become more challenging and provide an entirely new perspective.  I don’t mind doing laundry if I can toss it in the machine then kayak around a lake. Cooking a simple dinner isn’t nearly as odious when I can watch palm trees and the ocean from the kitchen window.

Last year we traveled to Iceland with our friends Cheerio and Chamomile. To save some money in what is a very expensive destination, we decided to rent a house. The house had a washer and dryer which was extremely helpful since we knew we were going to have to pack a lot of clothes for all sorts of weather and temperatures. Having the option to do laundry allowed us to cut down on some of the packing. It didn’t occur to us that washing our clothes would become part of our adventure.

Posted on the wall in the laundry room were instructions written in English explaining how to operate the washer and dryer. When Chamomile and I put in the first load, we followed the directions to the letter and successfully washed and dried our clothes. After a horseback riding excursion in the rain, we returned home in muddy clothes and rain gear. Clearly we needed to wash these items, but that meant going off script from the English instructions which only detailed one particular setting of the washer.

icelandic washer panel

The Icelandic washing machine panel. We were able to guess a few words. 

Chamomile and I felt we’d be able to figure out how to operate the machine to do a cold water wash. We stared at the panel with strange symbols and foreign words and our confidence began to wane.

“I know what we can do. We can use Google translate to help us read the settings,” I suggested. 

“Great idea,” said Chamomile.

The two of us sat down on the floor in front of the washer and set the Google translate app on our phone to Icelandic. Chamomile would spell one of the lengthy words as I typed it into the app and waited for a response.

“I don’t think this is right,” I said to Chamomile with a note of confusion in my voice.  “The answer doesn’t seem laundry related.”

We tried a few more times before we realized the washing machine was in Danish, not Icelandic. Once that bit was sorted out we were able to set the washer correctly, high fived ourselves for our ingenuity and went off to enjoy our afternoon.

Later in the day when we came back to the clothes, the rain gear was sopping wet. Putting it in the dryer wasn’t an option, so we decided to run it through the spin cycle again. We got out our trusty app, set it to Danish and typed in the word spin.

I called out the letters and Chamomile searched the panel for the word.

“Hmm…it’s not here,” she said, “and there isn’t a word that looks like the one you spelled.”

I looked up from the phone. We pored over every word on the panel, but nothing matched the app.

“Look at this,” Chamomile pointed.  “It looks like a symbol they use on the weather on TV when there is a hurricane. Maybe that is the spin cycle.”

“That sounds logical. It’s worth a shot,” I said turning the knob.  

Noticing our twenty minute absence, Oregano and Cheerio wandered down to the laundry room where they found the two of us sitting on the floor staring into the window of the washing machine.

“You know the TV is upstairs,” Oregano said. “Why are you watching the washer so intently?”

“We’re waiting to see if it starts to spin,” we answered in unison not turning our heads. Moments later the spinning began. Triumphant, we left the washer flinging the clothes around.

This year when planning a two week trip to Scotland, Oregano and I made sure to select accommodations with laundry facilities.

“At least this year, we’ll be in an English speaking country which means the washing machine will be in a language we can read,” I said remembering our Icelandic laundry experience.

I spoke too soon. After 5 days of tromping through wet and muddy glens, moors and hiking paths on the Isle of Skye, we needed to do laundry. The unit in our cottage had a washer/dryer combination machine. I was intrigued by this appliance. I wasn’t really sure how this would work. How does one machine do two completely opposite things? Does it automatically go into dryer mode when it is done washing? How long does this take? I carefully read the manual, despite it being in English, I still wasn’t sure how this was going to work.

washer and dryer in Skye

The first problem we encountered was that this was a tiny washing machine. The instruction manual told us how many kilograms of laundry we could put in the washer at once. It then provided examples of how much typical items weigh. For instance, a sheet is 400-500 grams, a towel is 150 to 250 grams and a bathrobe is a whopping 900 to 1200 grams. Sadly, the approximate weights of the specific items we needed to wash; socks, underwear, t-shirts and jeans weren’t listed. So,the laundry quickly became a math problem from primary school. If Paprika has 4 pair of dirty underwear that weigh 200 grams and Oregano has 4 pair of dirty underwear and two pairs of socks that weight 350 grams, how many pairs of jeans can they add without breaking the washing machine?

After a lengthy discussion of how much our clothes weigh and the acknowledgement of how ill prepared Americans are to deal with the metric system, we tried to calculate how much we could fit in the tiny washer without making it go off balance. Erring on the side of caution, we ended up with 4 different loads.

Now that the laundry piles were established it was time to contend with the actual operation of the washing machine. There were ten different wash cycles and one wash/dry cycle, The dryer had two heat settings: low and high. Based on the temperature of the clothes I pulled out, I would say those settings would be more aptly named: kiln and blast furnace. In addition to the heat settings there were five different dryer settings for time. Could this be any more complicated?


For our first load of laundry we used one of the settings based on the fabric of our clothes. It was a 90 minute cycle. Yikes!! This setting did not automatically go into dry mode so I set the dryer for the recommended 40 minutes. At the end of the cycle, I opened the door and was assaulted by a blast of steam that fogged up my glasses. After waiting for my glasses to clear and the steam to dissipate, I reached into the machine for what I thought would be a handful of dry clothes.

“Youch!” I yelled dropping the clothes surprised by how scalding hot they were. Hearing my howl and the sound of a wet plop on the floor, Oregano diverted his eyes from watching the sheep wandering the hillside and looked over at me.


“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” he was concerned.

“Do you remember the feeling when we ate in a Chinese restaurant and they came to the table at the end of the meal and used tongs to hand you a hot wash cloth?” I asked.

“Yes. Those towels were really hot and we usually ended up dropping them on the table the minute they touched our fingers, but what’s your point?” he seemed confused.

“Well, taking the clothes out just now reminded me of that experience,” I answered as heat radiated from the pile of clothes at my feet.

I risked a second degree burn to pick them up and put them back in the dryer. Despite being so hot, the clothes were not even close to being dry. Maybe our calculations were incorrect and the load was too large to dry in the allotted time. Surely another 40 minutes would do the trick.  At the end of the second cycle the clothes were on their way to dry, but not there yet. At least I had my answer as to how one machine can be used to wash AND dry clothes…it doesn’t actually dry them. Having more clothes to wash, we took our wee load of hot, damp clothes and draped them over every chair, door knob, hook and radiator we could find.

At the rate of 90 minutes of washing and 90 minutes of drying in the same machine, We’d need to stay here another few days just to finish the laundry. Perhaps one of the shorter wash cycles would be the solution. We turned the knob to the express wash setting… wash and dry a load in 35 minutes. Now, after seeing how the clothes came out of the dryer after 40 minutes, I was more than a bit skeptical that in 35 minutes they would be washed AND dried, but hope springs eternal. Thirty-five minutes later I had clean, hot, wet clothes. Maybe a different dryer setting would be more effective. According to the manual, the symbol of doors meant the clothes would come out dry enough to put directly into the closet . When I turned the knob to that setting, the timer showed 4 hours to dry the load. 4 HOURS!!!! What the hell do I need a dryer for if it is going to take 4 hours?! I might as well just take my chances with room temperature. So, we looked for more places to drape our damp clothes. The inside of our charming cottage looked like a hamper exploded.

On our last full day on the Isle of Skye, before we headed out for our day’s adventure, we threw our last load of clothes into the washer with some trepidation that they might not be dry enough to pack into the suitcase the next morning. Thankfully, the radiators did a better job of drying the clothes than the appliance actually designed for that purpose. In the morning a few t-shirts were still moist, so we used my hair dryer to accelerate the drying process before packing them.

With suitcases full of dry clothes, we loaded up the car and drove 5 hours enjoying the stunning scenery of  the Scottish Highlands, skirting the edge of Loch Ness and through Cairngorms National Park to the tiny town of Aberfeldy on the shores of Loch Tay. 


More adventures awaited us. Since we had laundry facilities in this cottage and had learned the quirkiness of a washer/dryer combination machine, we got muddy and wet with wild abandon. On the morning of our last full day in Aberfeldy, we tossed a small load of clothes into the machine then went into town to explore and have lunch before our 2:30 kayak rental reservation. Knowing what a lengthy process the business of drying clothes can be with this type of  machine, when we returned from town I changed into my kayaking clothes and went to turn the dryer on before we went out again.

After a few minutes of staring at the knobs and buttons on the machine, I started to have sinking feeling and called Oregano over.

“Do you see anything that indicates a dry option?” I asked him. “I see a setting marked cotton 95 degrees, but that doesn’t seem hot enough to dry clothes.” 

“That must be a water temperature setting. 95 degrees Celsius makes more sense,” he said.

“Damn metric system again,” I muttered.

Neither one of us could find a dryer setting on the machine.  Maybe the dryer was in a different area than the washer. A thorough search of our two story cottage ensued. After 10 minutes, we were perplexed and needed to leave to get to our kayak reservation.

“Please call the front desk and ask them if there is a dryer hidden somewhere in this cottage?” I asked Oregano.

The woman at the front desk wasn’t sure so she offered to call housekeeping and ring us back with an answer. Five minutes later we learned that the reason we could find no dryer setting and no dryer is because there wasn’t one in this particular cottage.  

If I thought the concept of having a machine that possesses the ability to both wash and dry clothes was strange, the idea of having only a washing machine was far more of a head-scratcher. This is Scotland. The weather changes every 10 minutes. Hanging clothes outside on a line to dry is not an option. Why would you have a washer, but no way to dry to the clothes?

“Is there a laundromat nearby that we can use to dry our clothes?” Oregano asked the woman. There was not.

“We have a small problem,” he admitted sheepishly. “We didn’t realize there was no dryer and now have a load of wet clothes with no way to dry them.”

The woman apologized for any inconvenience and told us bring our wet clothes to the reception desk. She said housekeeping would be happy to dry them for us. Talk about hospitality.

By the time we hung up the phone, the weather had changed again. Gone was the misty rain we’d been contending with for a week; this was a downpour. Undeterred by the fickle Scottish weather, we suited up in our rain gear fully prepared to get soaked while paddling. We gathered our wet laundry, tossed it in a grocery sack then headed to the posh lobby of our resort. The lovely ladies at the front desk asked us if we really intended to go kayaking in this weather tilting their heads toward the foggy loch just outside the rain spattered windows.

“Part of the charm of Scotland. It lends to the ambiance,” we said cheerfully. “And, we won’t have to worry about the midges,”I added.

“That’s the spirit,” they said smiling.

Passing a wrinkled plastic bag full of our wet knickers over the front desk to well dressed strangers was definitely an exercise in trust.

The woman holding the bag peered inside at the contents and asked, “Is this all there is?”

“That’s it,” we answered.

“This will be no problem at all. It’’ll be dry in a jiff,” she said closing the bag and placing it on the floor behind the desk..

As we walked to the edge of the loch to launch our kayaks, we calculated how much underwear we had left in case we weren’t reunited with all of the laundry we had just given away..

Even though there was a steady rain there was no wind. The water was like glass which made for easy paddling.  We were the only idiots out there so it was incredibly peaceful. The fog hovering on the hills surrounding the loch made the scenery even more dramatic. An hour later, we beached our boats then sloshed and squished our way back towards our cottage.

foggy loch tay

“While we are passing reception, do you think we should stop in and see if our laundry is dry?” asked Oregano.

“It’s bad enough we had to hand those women our wet underwear. We don’t need to go into the lobby and leave puddles as we stand there dripping while they fetch our belongings,” I replied.

“Good point,” he conceded.

When we got back to our cottage we showered off the chilly rain and lake water. We had another laundry related dilemma on our hands, the clothes we wore to kayak were drenched. Rather than bring another bag of wet clothes to the front desk, I recalled the lesson I learned during my Icelandic laundry adventure and found the symbol for the spin cycle. As our waterlogged clothes were whirling around in the washer, Oregano grabbed an umbrella and went back to the reception building to collect our clothes that were dried by kind strangers.

When we arrived in our apartment in Edinburgh the next afternoon Oregano pointed out another washer/dryer combination machine.

“We won’t be getting wet and muddy in the city. I think we have more than enough clothes to last us for the remainder of the trip and I’m certain we have had enough experience with foreign washing machines,” I said unpacking our suitcases yet again.

Edinburgh street view


About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

16 responses »

  1. So funny! Washer/dryer combos do not work. Your first instincts were correct! Hope you are doing well and still enjoying the students in NP! Paula

  2. Loved reading about your European laundry adventures. 🙂 It’s quite uncommon to have a washer and dryer in most European countries. Where I grew up in Germany we had a washer, and a small spinner and an actual room for laundry that you could hang lines in for drying clothes in Winter and in Spring/Summer clothes were hung outside.
    I was grateful that my sister who lives in Germany has a washer and dryer and we were able to avail ourselves of the machines while we were visiting Germany in March!

    • These experiences have changed my relationship with my dryer at home. I no longer take clothes dried thoroughly and quickly for granted. And, the next time I’m in Europe I will make sure to leave myself plenty of time for air drying.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. Hilarious rendition of laundry in Scotland! Great descriptions of an unforgettable experience!

  4. I’m cracking up!! I had a similar thing happen to me in Japan! And of course the hotel sent a repairman over to fix a non broken washer/dryer. When they realized he couldn’t help, the front desk took my clothes and dried them for me. At the end the cleaning crew told me that there was nothing wrong with the machine, just my comprehension of how it worked. Lol the clothes will not get super dry like they do with our machines. 🤣🤣

  5. What a fabulous tale! So you intrepid travelers were in Scotland?! I am so jealous… wish I could have joined you. Scotland is magical. 🙂 Wet and cold most of the time, but magical.

    We’ve never had a washer/dryer in any of the rooms we’ve stayed in whenever we traveled, so you guys are lucky!

    When we have more dirty than clean clothes in our suitcase, we would take everything to a local coin-operated laundromat and figure out how they worked with assistance from random strangers. (Many of these laundromats don’t actually have someone on duty to help you exchange money for tokens or figure out which settings to use, which is a pain in the butt.) Such visits to the laundromat usually took several hours, so we’d find a nearby cafe from where we could occasionally dash over to check that the washer was still gurgling and the dryer was still spinning.

    At home, we have a washer/dryer combo… it also takes 4 hours to “cupboard-dry” clothes, as it’s not really a dryer. I used to use the full cycle (about 90 mins sounds right), but since the water restrictions got so bad a few years ago, I only use the quickwash cycle (about 40 mins). We don’t have space for a separate washing machine and tumble-dryer; luckily SA has pretty good weather, so the sun does a great job with the washing line!

    • Scotland was a magical place even with the rain. The history and culture are fascinating. The scenery is breathtaking and the people could not have been nicer. We are hoping we get to go back some day.

      You get points for bravery for doing laundry in a foreign coin operated laundromat. We tried using a coin operated parking meter in a German speaking country and it didn’t go well. Can’t imagine trying to tackle loads of laundry.

      With the sun in SA, you’ve got a fighting chance of drying your clothes outside, so you don’t need the dryer as much as we do here in NJ or there in Scotland.

  6. I have never understood how combination washer/dryers could work. I’m rather reassured that they appear not to 🙂

    Thank you for sharing these stories. Your holiday (even with your laundry adventures) sounds very appealing. Glad you had a good time!

  7. I’m glad that you finally came clean with your washer/dryer adventures in foreign lands. At first I thought you would become so agitated that you were going to hang us out to dry, but you were up to the task. It is always fun to hear about your trips and how you spin a good yarn. Keep up the good work.

  8. Hi Paprika, I have a new email address:

    Could you update your info? I don’t want to miss out on these.

    Love, Laura

    • Hi, Laura. I’m so happy you are still reading and enjoying these posts even when they have become so few and far between.
      The updates are sent directly from WordPress. You can use the subscribe button on the blog to subscribe with your new email. ♡


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