A Post-Mother’s Day Rant

This tongue-in-cheek essay expresses my frustration with so-called state-of-the-art restrooms. If you are squeamish about bathroom topics, just skip this one. But if you read it and have your own pet PEEve, please send it. And hopefully, you will laugh and not be offended by the topic.

Pissed Off! Pet PEEves in Public Restrooms

The word “restroom” is my first peeve. I don’t ever remember actually resting in these facilities. And even the word bathroom bothers me. There are no showers or bathtubs in any “restrooms” I frequent. Why are we afraid to use the word toilet? In France the word is “toilette.” Does that sound better? Or maybe “loo,” as they say in Great Britain.  After all, we call the cover over the commode a toilet lid, not a restroom lid.

Second PEEve: The commode challenge. Sometimes there is a little red light blinking in the back for automatic flushing. When I sit down (with or without paper liners; if no liners, I rest on my hands, although I am not really afraid I will get sick from sitting on the seat), sometimes the toilet flushes before I even finish, midstream. Then I have to start over and wait for the next flush so the bowl is clean. (I remember there was a TV-law show from the 80s related to this. A senior lawyer carried a hand-held flushing device in his pocket that allowed him to flush the commode remotely before entering the toilet, because, as he said, “I like a fresh bowl.”) Or the flush mechanism doesn’t work at all. I try flashing my hand back and forth over the blinking light to get it to work, and finally resort to pressing the little button with a clean finger to trigger a flush.

Third PEEve: the new sinks with automatic soap dispensers. In one of the popular Cineplex theatres, the sinks have sleek, black marble countertops. However, the architectural genius designed the sinks without sloping sides, resulting in a pool of water across all the sinks. (I suspect the engineer was a man, because men often use the urinal and leave without using the sink to wash their hands. I checked this out with my husband.) There are also “non-sinks” made of rectangular stone slabs sporting a trough at the edge. They seem to splash the water onto my body before gravitating into the trough. The automatic soap dispensers next to the now-wet sink tops or trough-sinks don’t always work. If you run your hand under the back of the sink, where there is a sensor, water should start to flow. That doesn’t always happen, so I move to the next sink, being careful not to get wet. That sink works, but the soap dispenser does not work either manually or by waving your hand. Sometimes a little comes out and then the rest dribbles down on top of the counter or on my sleeve. So much for sinks and soap!

Fourth PEEve: hand drying. Paper towels are becoming obsolete in many bathrooms. Good ecology idea, so now we have jet blowers. (The rumor about more bacteria being spread from the hand dryers has not been proven.) Some blow you away, while others take forever. When there are paper towels, some are automatic; others need to be pulled, but there is great inconsistency, because where there are automatic soap and water dispensers in sinks, the towels may not be automatic and vice versa. Very frustrating!

When I was in Portugal, there was actually a wider array of flushing mechanisms: handles, pull chords, a button to push in the top of the tank and even one with a dial on the front of the toilet tank that you had to turn. My friend and I laughingly dubbed it, “Dial-a-Flush.” I even saw toilets that allowed you to have a choice of how much water you could let into the tank, depending on your output—–an effort towards water conservation. So there are non-automatic alternatives, even though they may be foreign to our thinking.

(Side bar: When we go back to visit my friends in State College, we rent a room in a clean budget motel. About three years ago, I put a note on the suggestion card in the room to put toilet lids on the commodes, since they are right next to the sink and makeup can easily drop inside. I received a formal letter thanking me for the suggestion and that all the rooms would soon have toilet lids. I never before received such a thank you note.)

Last PEEve: toilet paper. The newer dispensers with double rolls often don’t work. The paper gets stuck, so I am careful to start the roll before I sit down, lest I be caught short. And since most places uses single-ply, instead of double-ply, I tend to use more paper than I do at home. And if the paper is almost gone, I move to another stall. I used to carry a small roll of travel toilet paper, but that was lost in one of my travels. The newer over-sized, single roll dispensers seem to work best.

OK, so here’s the scenario: I sit down in a stall and hope that whichever flushing method is available actually works. If there is a handle (which my younger daughter never touches with her hands for fear of germs, since you don’t wash your hands until after using the commode), I push it down with my “dirty” hand, which I will soon wash.  If there is a blinking light, I wait a few seconds and if that doesn’t work, I look for the little button to activate it with one, hopefully, clean finger.

Next, tackling the sinks. I step back if there is water surrounding the sink. I fool around with the soap dispenser, hoping it works correctly or at all, and then I wait for the water to go on and realize it is not automatic. I turn the handle or push down a knob on the nozzle (again my hands are still contaminated), and rub my hands together with the soap and water, creating the friction needed to remove bacteria. I silently sing Happy Birthday twice, which is the recommended time for washing. I look around for the paper towels or automatic dryer. Sometimes the towels are next to the sink, stuck in their dispenser so tightly that I can’t remove even one. Or maybe the towel dispensers that request a waving hand to have a towel drop down? That works about 50% of the time. If there is a blow dryer, I generally use it for a few seconds.  As I exit, I notice some women, like my daughter, don’t touch the handle with her clean hands.

The lack of uniformity is mind-boggling. I leave the facility totally frustrated, instead of relieved, because I have had to make so many choices and decisions. No restroom here! All I want to do is pee, wash my hands with soap and water in a sink with sloping sides, dry my hands, and leave.  Is that too much to ask? How about installing toilets and sinks and dryers that actually talk? They can tell you (in English, Spanish, Japanese, French, Chinese, etc.) how many seconds you have to use the commode, ask you to flush or not flush, and guide you through the steps to wash and dry your hands.  Just like the automated checkout counters in the supermarkets. Now, that’s progress!

P.S. Wouldn’t this have made a good Seinfeld episode, with Elaine being the klutzy woman in the “restroom” and Jerry telling us about his toilet travails in his monologue? (Of course, men don’t seem to have all these issues. Or if they do, they ain’t talkin’.)

P.P.S. My sister-in-law reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine could not get the woman in the next stall to hand her some toilet paper. That was a good one!

P.S. Of course, all these peeves are petty when many people in developing countries still squat over a hole in the ground, have no toilet paper, and pour water over their hands from a pitcher, and even then the water is iffy. But I live in a modern country and I would hope that someday we can use the word “toilet” without being offended, control how we flush the toilet or have the automatic flushers actually work, use real sinks that slant the water into the bowl and not on the counter, and automatic dryers or paper towel dispensers that really dispense. I would even accept the old-fashioned towel roller that allowed you to pull down a clean section.  Just the basics are all I need!

8 thoughts on “A Post-Mother’s Day Rant

  1. All too true. You’ve captured the spirit and reality perfectly. But you have not yet been to China. Admittedly I was there more than 10 years ago, but nevertheless I expect that rural facilities have not changed a great deal i the interim. The women in my group started to rate toilet facilities based on the star system. And they truly ranged from 5 stars to those that needed to give us stars for daring to use them. These latter consisted of a hole in the ground with boards or stones on either side to place your feet. You then squat and hope you aim correctly. Toilet paper? Soap? Towels or dryers? Nonexistent. I carried those small rolls of toilet paper and a lot of Purell.

  2. I’m definitely laughing, Ellen Sue! These are surely common toilet truths and woes among American women. I have a couple more: no hooks inside the stall for your purse or packages. I hate to put anything on the floor of a public restroom and have found myself peeing with two fully loaded cloth shopping bags and a purse hanging around my neck. How about squeezing into the stall at the airport with your luggage? One thing for sure – in spite of our germ phobias, research says that the buttons on ATM machines have thousands of times more germs than those we fear from public toilets.

  3. this cannot be said of Longwood Garden’s Green Wall, and in-between commodious restrooms,
    with special places to tend to a baby’s needs. Always clean, and yes even restful after the long
    trek through the Gardens. Longwood has received a meritorious award for the quality of its restrooms.
    Sit down awhile, get out of the sun, wind, or cold, and feel comforted by the beautiful interior,
    you never experienced anything like it before nor will you ever again.

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