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LJ Idol IX - LCI-3. We Are All In the Gutter (~925 words)

kehlen_crow blames theun4givables for sending her mind into this gutter, yet fully accepts the responsibility for it being so easily sent in its direction

Warning: mildly taboo subject, mention of bodily functions. NC 12 if you squint.

Let us talk about the unmentionables. Not the clothes, but the place where "they boys go to the right and the girls go to the left", or one that is "directly ahead and to the left", or maybe just in "the head", even if it often is in the tail end, especially in a plane's couch.

Loos, toilets, water closets, bathrooms, amenities, enough of a taboo still lingers over those necessary places to make people squirm yet want to exchange delighted horror stories about visiting such places in different parts of the world.

In Russia, toilet culture and the general level of sanitation seem to have been behind those in other countries for ages despite public saunas, the banyas, always having been accessible to literally everyone. This situation is not very logical, but what is is.

A sad ironic story is told about our well-known composer Tchaikovsky. Shortly before his untimely death, he went on a concert tour of the United States, and upon return, made his opinion about the superior state of public sanitation there known either in his talks with friends or through a series of travelogues. Not two years later while out for dinner with friends, he requested well water to be brought to him when the establishment ran out of the safe, boiled water. He caught cholera that day and died not a fortnight later. The year was 1893.

Cholera and dysentery are certainly not around anymore and have not been since early in the XX century, yet toilet culture leaves a lot to be desired. Stinky, wet, ill-kept public bathrooms, even paid ones, are sadly a fact of life, even though the situation is gradually improving.

People themselves are not blameless in this state of affairs though. I will always feel vindictive glee when recounting the following real-life anecdote about a Russian tourist and an American automatic street toilet. You know the ones where you pay, you enter, the door closes, you do your business, wash your hands, exit, the door closes again and the whole place is cleaned with torrents of water, leaving the interior rather humid yet acceptable for the next client? In some of them, the floor has inbuilt weight sensors, and that's how the toilet "knows" that you have left and it needs to start its cleaning cycle. Now it's all fine for civilized patrons, yet there is a nasty trend here to crouch on top of the toilet when using it. (Personally, I do not understand how those who do it are not afraid to fall off and break something, yet many obviously are not.)

So imagine this. Barbarian tourist enters. Door closes. Barbarian tourist crouches on the toilet. Sensor records absence of weight on the floor. Door opens. Passers-by see Barbarian tourist crouching pantless on the toilet. Door closes. Toilet cleans itself. Door opens. Passers-by see Barbarian tourist crouching pantless on the toilet, soaking wet.

Not being fixated on the subject, because of it being slightly taboo you cannot help finding perverse pleasure in recounting some of the stories. The likely fictional one about ancient Romans making slaves warm up the stone seats of their toilets for them. Or the true one of me overstaying my welcome in a public toilet in Paris and upon having yelled out "just a minute!" to the impatient next customer receiving "must be a Belgian" grumbled from behind the door (because if you are slow and speak accented French, the French automatically assume you are Belgian, all right?)

Joking aside, if you are the kind of tourist who enjoys one-on-one times with other cities, you quickly learn two simple truths: you find a toilet, you use the toilet and once found a free toilet in a city you visit regularly, you remember its location for further reference.

In that vein, did you know that
- in Boston, there is one in the tourist info center on Boston Common;

- many of the large American chain bookstores also have them;
- in New York, you may find one in the Long Island Ferry Terminal, the Rockefeller Center, the shopping mall at Columbus Circle, and, shockingly, in Trader Joe's supermarket on Amsterdam Avenue;
- in London, they are everywhere on Bankside: in the ticket office of the London Eye, in the National Theatre, in the concert hall whose name I forget

- and also on Trafalgar square on the other side of the Thames as well as in several Tube stations, namely, Westminster;
- in Moscow, there is one on the Red Square right by the Kremlin wall.

Let me finish though on the upbeat note of a little private joke my mother and I had during our visit to London a month ago. We often said to each other, "Let's go to the toilet...on Trafalgar Square, and then we'll see what to do next." This sounds funny, but is not quite so. Not with the National Gallery being in that Square, Charing Cross Road right behind it, Strand starting on the right (if you are facing the gallery), St James park just around the corner, Picadilly and Regent streets not ten minutes away on foot, and Big Ben visible down Whitehall street, the street which is also home to Trafalgar Studios, the main theatrical attraction of our stay in the city.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC)
Haha, while Norwegians don't squat on top of toilets, I also feel like we've been left behind when it comes to providing acceptable public toilets. We don't have the fancy self-cleaning ones, and the few we do have cost (a lot of) money to use, and are fitted with all sorts of precautions to prevent junkies from ODing in them. Aaah, the joys of living in a small big city.

The lack of public toilets in Oslo have been a debate for quite some time now. A couple of years ago it became a health problem because drunk people making their way back home from a night on the town would relieve themselves and take dumps in the city's park shrubberies. Yup, we have a way to go still.

Public toilets in Japan can also be an adventure, though mostly because squat toilets are still pretty common - particularly if you're travelling around the country side. They are actually very comfortable to use (and it feels very sanitary, since your body never touches any surfaces - all the public squat toilets I've been to have always been very clean, despite being out in the middle of nowhere), but I am always terrified I'll pee all over my clothes and shoes 8D; If given a choice, I (almost) always wait in line for a western style toilet.
Oct. 13th, 2014 10:35 pm (UTC)
From what I remember of our trip to Scandinavia, your paid toilets are also among the most expensive in Europe (maybe it's simply because your money is one of the most expensive :-) ).

I have seen drunks do that in our yard several times over the years. Yikies. To be fair, I have seen them do it Los Angeles as well, and in some other places too.

For years, we've had these horrible tiny blue bio toilet cabins everywhere, and they are were very awful they were literally the last resort. So I understand your problem very well :).

I like squat toilets, they are very common in some Russian regions, and we also had them once at summer camp. I did not know they were so common in Japan though.
Oct. 14th, 2014 09:37 pm (UTC)
Yeees. It's like 10NOK (€1,2) to use the public restrooms at the central train station and bus station is Oslo :| Most other establishments (including cinemas) insist you buy something there in order to enjoy their facilities. I've never found a public restroom at any of the metro stations .....

Eww porta-potties, haha. No lie, it's one of the main reasons I stay away from music festivals and other large events xD;
Oct. 14th, 2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
There is a free one in the, uh, Rathaus? in Oslo. We used it when we were on holiday there, but as it was a bus tour and the time was limited, and as usual, a lot more women waited in line than did men, some of us ended up storming the men's toilets. Only we did not know you bad to get through a room with pissoirs first... There followed much embarrassed giggling, not looking at the poor men there and covering our faces with our hands.
Oct. 13th, 2014 10:35 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.
Oct. 16th, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC)
your final paragraph kind of left me scratching my head. Like, you set it up as though it was kind of a funny joke, but something seems to be missing.
Oct. 30th, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC)
Hmm, yes, I see what you mean. It was not very well balanced between using a central square of the city for that purpose, and then it not being true after all.

Or rather it was not a definitive ending for all of the above, it left the thing not quite-finished. Damn. :)

Thank you.
Oct. 30th, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
Me, I am subtle like brick, but I try to stand on the brick to see better instead of bashing at someone. :)
Glad I was of some help.
Oct. 14th, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
I like this.
I have been thinking of writing a toilet blog for a while as I have a toilet disability and can need to visit one every half an hour or so, so I see many on my travels!

I had a friend have the same thing happen to her in a self cleaning toilet a few years ago. Around here they are on a timer and if they think you have been inside for too long they open. She had a false leg so was quite slow at getting around so when the door opened she was too slow to pull up her underwear and get out of the toilet before it closed again and soaked her!

Edited at 2014-10-14 06:23 pm (UTC)
Oct. 14th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
Oh god, I'm so sorry for your friend! This is even worse than the too-short pedestrian green light time at busy cross roads that makes older people trot across (such a disgrace! )
Oct. 14th, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC)
Also, years ago my mother used to know the location of every public toilet in the center of Moscow because her aunt had a problem similar to yours...

Oct. 15th, 2014 03:11 pm (UTC)
From California
Here in the US, free toilets are everywhere. In fact we feel put upon should there be a charge to use one. It feels like it is our God given right to pee when necessary.

I do remember visiting Bratislava, Slovakia. Our host, a city resident, gleefully took us to McDonald's. Not to "dine," (horrors!) but to use the American style free toilets.

For me, however, the very best toilet when not at home is the bushes of the wilderness. No smell, very hygenic if not too close to drinking water, and it comes with a view--though often simply of tree branches around you!

Edited at 2014-10-15 03:11 pm (UTC)
Oct. 15th, 2014 05:16 pm (UTC)
Re: From California
I am affected by the toilet taboo in that I am quite reluctant to ask if it's okay to use restaurants' bathrooms if you are not eating there (it apparently is not more often than not in California?) This is part of the reason why I keep all these places in mind.

In general though, your bathrooms are exemplary (and I miss the paper things that you put on the seats, and especially the drinking fountains back home and in other countries).

McDonald's toilets are not always free, not in Paris <3. But here as well a lot of people go there specifically to use theirs.

I do not know about the bushes, I've had enough going there when I was younger and having to use leaves in place of paper :-).
Oct. 16th, 2014 02:38 am (UTC)
I actually hadn't realized there were any pay toilets in the US, but, I do enjoy the image of a crouching soaking wet Barbarian tourist with his pants around his ankles. Way to beat the system, jackass. You've obviously given a lot of thought to something that's never occurred to me to consider!
Oct. 16th, 2014 10:57 am (UTC)
Thank you. Come to think of it, I think those street booths are the only paid toilets I have seen.

Yet after itsjustc told me about her disabled friend who got soaked in one of those things that worked on a timer, I think the story of the Barbarian lost some of its appeal to me.
Oct. 16th, 2014 11:22 am (UTC)
It was bad for her at the time (and not right for those people who are slower!) but she had a great sense of humour and would often repeat the story with laughter.

Oct. 16th, 2014 02:44 am (UTC)
Very amusing. *grin* I particularly enjoyed the story of the barbarian tourist.

Oct. 16th, 2014 11:05 am (UTC)
Thank you :)
Oct. 16th, 2014 10:07 pm (UTC)
We have a lot of free toilets here -- I think the only paid one is at the Coliseum, and it's only during major events when they keep cleaning staff in it. (When it's unstaffed, it's free.) But it's tips-based -- they post a sign telling you what the expected tip for a use is, with a basket underneath it, rather than anyone taking money. Most people drop the tip into the basket on their way in or out, though.
Oct. 30th, 2014 04:06 pm (UTC)
Wow, I have never heard of a tip-based toilet before! Thank you for sharing this curious fact. :)
Oct. 31st, 2014 04:45 am (UTC)
You're welcome. :)
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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