A Post Emily Post Would Never Post!
Several years ago I remember marveling at an example of German design and ingenuity… no, not a Volkswagen … no, not a Mercedes… but a toilet seat… yes, dear readers, a toilet seat!
I happened to be flying business class and had access to the business/first class lounge at Frankfurt airport. I enjoyed the amenities; snacks and refreshments, cushy seating, even showers and a place to nap. All of this was lovely but the real revelation, the real showstopper was…the toilet seats!
The epitome of German engineering, the toilet seats were not only heated but they were covered by a protective sanitary plastic liner/seat cover which, when you pushed a button, conveniently rotated for the next user. Hence you were guaranteed a dry and hygienic restroom experience. Amazing!
I’m not sure how long I spent pushing the button and marveling at this ingenious invention, but I have yet to see it again anywhere else. Darn! (Back to those ridiculous paper seat covers that never ever stay put!) So, whoever you are, wherever you are…from a grateful traveler, I thank you for that thoughtful invention!
Since then, the idea of compiling a “user’s/owner’s manual”, i.e., a practical guideline on toilet etiquette, an instruction book per se, has been percolating. I even thought of the perfect title, ToilEtiquette! Clever, yes? Unfortunately someone else also thought so, too, and used the phrase but since it isn’t copyrighted and I wasn’t satisfied with what I found online…here goes my version.
Traveling and needing the “facilities” can result in some awkward and even embarrassing situations. So, in the interest of your comfort, and hopefully a minimally memorable experience, I’m happy to share some observations and guidelines that I‘ve learned from my travels:
- When nature calls: Don’t wait until you are desperate or in a panic…the next
restroom might not be any better than this one.
- Wherever you are, locate the nearest restroom (i.e., in airports, train stations, restaurants, museums, stores, public areas, etc.) ASAP.
- Know local terminology and symbols for restroom (e.g. WC =water closet, toilet, washroom, etc.).
Although the panicky expression on your face may be enough, it helps to be familiar with “where is the…?” in the local language as well as “Men” and “Women” (so you don’t walk in the wrong door). You will also encounter interesting photos/graphics designating men vs. women as well as various symbols in blue and white. Don’t be surprised to see co-ed facilities.
- Assume there will lines: Yes, ladies, it’s unfair that we are usually the ones waiting in lines, but it’s a fact (and one of the few times I wish I were a guy!). However, if the mens’ room is
empty, there’s no rule against commandeering it … after all, it is for a good cause.
- Be prepared:
— Always carry small coins/change for pay toilets and tips.
— Always carry extra tissues and antibacterial wipes.
- Locate the basics immediately once you’re in the stall:
—Toilet seat cover (good luck, these are rare)
—Toilet paper: can be located in all manner of places, not all of which are convenient. Find it and have it handy. I suggest having your own tissues handy so that you can quickly retrieve your own if you come up empty handed.
— Where can you hang/put your belongings? (Be prepared to improvise.)
— How to lock the door (assuming it locks).
— How do you flush? Now, this can be the most interesting search of all! From none to automatic, from floor petals, levers and pull chains, to buttons…on the wall, on the tank, on the floor, behind and on the side… Push the button, yank the chain, put the pedal to the metal; push, pull, step, yank…!
- Be grateful if there’s an attendant and tip them graciously: My experience is that where there’s an attendant, there’s a clean restroom. Be glad they are there doing a job you wouldn’t want. They certainly deserve a gratuity!
- Be ready to navigate in a small space – it is often apparent that whoever designed the space never had to use it…
- Stalls are amazingly space efficient (i.e. crowded). Take as little in with you as possible. Thatsaid, If you are toting or carrying luggage, try to squeeze it in with you. If you have a travel buddy, take turns watching each others’ belongings.
- Never leave your belongings unattended. Do not hang or place your purse, bag or belongings over the stall door or on a sink counter. (I’ve become quite adept at holding my purse between my knees while I wash my hands!)
- Let this be a warning: I remember encountering a Turkish toilet (squat) and there was
absolutely NO where to hang a purse or tote. No way was I going to set it down, so I slung it around my neck! Awkward & uncomfortable, yes…but…
- Roll up those pant legs. (Need I explain?)
- Nothing (and I mean nothing!) should touch the floor! ( Again, need I explain?)
- Practice deep squats and balancing. I teach and practice yoga. I suggest that you learn “chair pose”, i.e. practice sitting down on an invisible chair.
- “Vacant” or “Not Vacant?” Peeking under the door may be frowned upon in some circles, but I’m all for it. I’m also not opposed to trying the handle is I can’t see under the door.
- Up or down? I’m referring to the toilet seat of course…I mean, no one wants to have to touch it…I vote for down for selfish and aesthetic considerations.
- “For Customers Only”. Many places of business ask that only customers use the restrooms. The best way to make this a win-win situation is to make a purchase – a cup of espresso, a bottle of water, a snack – and after you have paid politely ask to use the restroom.
- I can’t believe I have to say this, but:
— Please, no cell phone chats in the stalls.
— Please, no dilly dallying – there’s a line, remember??
—Please obey signs asking you not to put something in the toilet because it will ruin the plumbing. This is usually clearly communicated with an illustrated sign.
— Never push a red button unless it really is an emergency.
— If there is no toilet tissue or a plumbing issue, please advise the next person and report to the attendant or staff.
— Be considerate: I can’t believe the condition some “ladies” rooms are in – even at high end locales and venues. I won’t go into detail, but it can be shocking. Really? Is that what you do at home? Be considerate – use waste containers, wipe down the sink, etc.
— Etceteras: There is, of course, gender specific etiquette to observe…but I’ll leave those to someone else to write about and to your common sense.
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