My Public Toilet Tales

Rerun from October 25, 2007:

My blogger friend Ruthe, who is a tad older than me only by number, is on an amazing solo trip to Japan this month, and I’ve been tagging along with her via her special posts enroute. She’s got the keen, observant eye of a photographer (in fact that was her profession once upon a time) and her photographs add a lot to her stories.Here’s how Ruthe described a recent experience with the toilets in Japan.

“The ladies room at the station had 2 squats. When I saw that, I walked out. Another woman showed me the handicapped toilet-western style. The only trouble was I couldn’t get the door to close. Somehow I finally managed it. It took all of my strength to get it open again. I wanted to use it again before I boarded the train. Couldn’t get it to close at all. I don’t know what I did the first time. I can’t imagine how anyone who was really handicapped could use it.”

Having traveled a little myself, I’m always reminded of my own paradigm shifts regarding “facilities” offered by various cultures not our own. I can’t think of a place in the U.S., unless possibly in the deepest south, that doesn’t have public toilets, not always clean and not always what you would hope for, but at least “facilities” when you need them. If you’ve been to Las Vegas, you know that the casinos there seem in competition with each other to provide the fanciest toilets imaginable. And there’s always the fast food restaurants where you can run in and use the bathrooms and then buy a cup of coffee if you feel too guilty to leave without buying something.

Problems can and do often crop up when we travel in foreign countries, however, since we have been so spoiled by the availability of public restrooms in this country. Since my first foreign travel, I’ve learned quite a few things about toilets in general, and no doubt have much more to learn in future travels, but for now, this is what I know to be true:

Toilets are not always free. Like the one in Germany where the female attendant chased me out of the damen toiletten because I didn’t have any deutchmarks to pay her. She had graciously opened a stall door and indicated that I was to enter and use it, but wasn’t so kind afterwards when I tried to tell her that I had no money to pay. Luckily Hubby, upon hearing the commotion, sensed the problem and came to my rescue with the proper German coinage.

There is much confusion as to toilet terminology. When I asked the local English speaking “tourist attendant” during a tour while in the Himalayan foothills of Inda in Simla, he seemed perplexed by the term “bath” room, not quite understanding why–I now realise all these years later–I’d be needing a bath at that particular time and place. “Rest” room, I tried. Still he seemed puzzled. Finally I came up with “toilet” which was the term I’d tried hard not to use because, where I came from in the U.S. south, that’s a slightly unsavory term very close to outhouse that we try to avoid using (at least where I was growing up). Voila. Toilet he understood. Mission accomplished.

Expectations can and do vary widely from one country to another. On another visit to India, the tour bus we were using was forced to make a stop at a bus garage because of a mechanical problem. I guess there was no such thing as a rescue bus taking us on and continuing the tour, so we were forced to sit for what could be hours inside the bus in a barnyard like place with old bus parts, wheels, tires, etc., no nice office buildings nearby or anything resembling a toilet anywhere.

Since my nervous stomach always acts up in situations like this, I soon had to go. Finally getting the driver’s attention, I was duly directed to a makeshift, windowless, corrugated tin building. I peered in cautiously, not sure what to expect, but hoping against hope for a western style toilet. Not in this lifetime! The stench that hit me was nearly overwhelming.

There, all over the hard dirt floor, were various “deposits” presumably made by patrons before me. They were here, there, and everywhere, to be stepped around and in between in order to find a choicer and, hopefully unused, spot! Wide open room. No privacy but luckily no one else was there at the time. Who said, desperate times call for desperate measures?! I understand the term perfectly now. I was so desperate, that’s exactly what I did.

The last toilet story I have in my bag of tales is at the airport in a large Indian city. I was elated that we were at last on our way home to the U.S., but during a long delay waiting to depart I decided to visit the ladies room. I was used to seeing sleeping bodies of women toilet attendants by that time, so thought nothing of stepping around one to go inside.

After I’d washed my hands later, however, one of those ladies kept pressing a hot towel in my hand. I knew she wanted rupees, none of which I had with me since I rarely carry a purse in India, so I refused it, saying over and over “no paisa, no paisa” while looking for another way to dry my hands, even if it meant using the folds of my skirt. She finally succeeded in forcing the towel into my wet palms. I thought she was just being nice, since she knew I had no money (I’d told her so often enough), so I accepted it.

I thanked her, and shrugged my shoulders and said no paisa when she pressed me again for money. She followed me all the way back to the gate where Hubby was waiting, angrily grabbing and shouting at me in Hindi all the way. When he realised what had happened he shouted at her in Hindi to leave me alone. Only then did she relent and stop harrassing me.

So those are my toilet tales. Do you have any toilet tales to share? In case Ruthe decides to write a book on foreign toilets, maybe she’ll want to include them along with those posted here. The travel market just might be ready for a book like that.

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4 thoughts on “My Public Toilet Tales

  1. I love Ruthe’s adventures. I love your stories too. I have IBS, and this sometimes finds me in real difficulty with toilets anywhere. My shopping is planned around bathrooms, the stores I go to have to have bathrooms, and I was delighted to find some of those automated toilets in Paris. San Francisco has a few too. Save the day.

    I’m just really grateful to remember the mordita was needed on our last trip to Mexico. I was able to find spare change just when I most dramatically needed a bathroom. I found a bathroom too. On the side of a building, two stories up, they installed a bathroom then attached one of those circular stairs. Right at the top waited a woman. It was decorated like a cave, and was one of the wierdest places I had ever been. In the end, the toilet flushed, and that was all important.

  2. This certainly brought back memories of my first time in Paris…..a very nice, up-scale, sidewalk cafe in the Montparnasse district. You’d think they’d have a western-type decent bathroom, right? Wrong!
    Imagine my shock to discover something I’d only read about……the Turkish style toilet. A tiled area that reminds one of a shower stall, two outlines where one puts their feet……..to straddle while urinating. Certainly not difficult for a male……but a female? One might literally NEED a shower after attempting this one!
    Needless to say, I took one look, got the idea, tightened up my bladder and told hubby, “We’re outta here!”

  3. When W visited you last spring, did he tell you the story about the public toilet on Crete c 1974? He was on sabbatical, solely (and bravely) hiking his way around the globe. He camped at a beach on Crete along with dozens of European hikers.

    One night, the hikers broke out the Ouzo and passed around many bottles for everyone to enjoy. W had too many sips of this powerful drink and suddenly found himself totally intoxicated.

    He desperately had to use the only public toilet in the camp ground. He stumbled into the little building and put his feet in the appropriate spots for squatting. He was too drunk for this move, and fell into a pile of dung left by other drunken tourists.

    Because he was so drunk, W thought to himself, “No one will notice this s__t that’s all over me.” He staggered back to the camp site where some slightly sober hikers grabbed him and tossed him into the sea to clean him.

    I hope I am never that drunk.

  4. My most famous toilet story is the one I blogged about when Dad made a latrine out of a refrigerator box while we were camping when I was young. The problem was it was too close to a road and the box blew off when my older brother was sitting inside doing his thing.

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