Doing Laundry in a Foreign Country

One of the benefits of the privilege of travel is that you get the opportunity to test your tenacity in ways you would never be able to test them at home. Take, for example, doing a load of laundry.

Since I was so massively hungover yesterday, I thought a reasonable activity would be to do a few loads of laundry. There is a washing machine and dryer in one of the common areas of the university housing where I am staying in Kuopio. It is just a washing machine and dryer. It isn’t coin-operated. Then I snooped around and found a closet where people had left laundry detergent that presumably was left-over from previous visitors. Cool.

Usually, the limiting factor is getting detergent. If you don’t understand the language and don’t recognize the shapes and colors of bottles and boxes, buying the appropriate laundry detergent at a random store can be more challenging than you’d think. Think about how you buy laundry detergent. You know brands. Tide. Cheer. All. You know the color schemes for their logos. You know the shapes of the bottles and boxes. It’s all very visual and visceral. But there are other things that they always put near laundry detergents. Fabric softener. Bleach. Bleach alternatives. Woolite. Dyes. Suppose you had no idea about brands and couldn’t read. And suppose things like the shapes of bottles and boxes are completely different from what you know. Would you be able to differentiate between liquid Tide and Woolite? I say all this because it can be harder than you think. We usually don’t think very deeply about these things. But when you’re in a foreign place, you need to and that can be challenging.

Okay. So detergent wasn’t the problem. The laundry machine and dryer are standard looking, stacked front-loading units. I separate my clothes and get ready for the first load. Sweet. This is going to be easy. I found where to put the detergent, so that’s solved. Now, all I have to do is find the correct programmed setting, set the temperature, etc. But here’s the problem. Check out the front panel display.

Front panel of the laundry machine.

Okay. The power button is clearly to the right outside the view of this picture, so that’s not an issue. Here’s a look into my mind. I deduced easily that the upper right button sets the temperature since I spot easily the “95ºC” below it. I test that by pressing it and cycling through the different temperature settings. By a correlation analysis using my laundry machine back home, I arrive at the conclusion that the button to the left of the temperature button sets the RPM of the spin cycle. Now what? Well, I went to retrieve my phone and launch the Google Translate app. I enter in a bunch of the words and eventually find the “Cottons” setting which is “Puuvilla”. Sweet, I hit the button on the lower left and the laundry machine starts. Thanks to Google Translate, I was able to navigate through this problem without any issues. I felt rather proud of myself.

The laundry cycle completed and it was time to dry my clothes. I moved my wet clothes into the dryer. Now it was just a matter of finding the correct dryer setting and pressing the “make it go” button. Here’s where the real problem began. Check out their front panel display for the program setting.

Dial for dryer program setting

Since there are no words, I was not able to use Google Translate. This one-trick pony was in trouble. Okay. I understand “30 min,” “60 min,” and “90 min,” but what do these symbols mean? Below “90 mins” there appears to be an iron. Does that mean “permanent press” or do a damp dry so that you can iron your clothes right afterward? There seems to be a symbol for water drops, but does more water drops mean don’t dry as much or the opposite?  And what are those symbols of an boxes with a vertical line mean? I went to the web and googled the model number, but it ends up that this dryer model is sold only in Finland and Russia. I could find a user manual online, but it was only in Russian. I don’t know how to enter Russian text into Google Translate. No help. I then tried to find other user manuals for related models. Eventually, I found that the box symbols represent a closet. Here, a closet is a piece of furniture, not a built-in feature of a room. I suppose if I had thought about that more explicitly, I could have reasoned through that, but that literally never entered my mind. If the symbol is filled, I think that means that there are textiles of various sizes and densities. If it is not filled, it corresponds to clothes of even size and density. I ended up choosing the program one-click counter-clockwize from “6 o’clock.” It worked.

I really spent something like 2 hours trying to research what these damned symbols mean. I guess you could read this and flippantly say that I could have just chosen one setting and tried. Or maybe you figured it all out from the comfort of your home. But there is a helplessness that overcomes someone in this situation. Doing something like laundry when you don’t understand everything that’s going on is disconcerting and unnerving. At least for me, it is.

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