Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When you got to go...

When I was in high school, we took a two-week driving tour of Italy with another family. There were four of us kids and, of course, that meant innumerable potty breaks.  You can imagine.   We quickly discovered that the universal sign for bathroom was W.C. for "water closet."   So every 45 minutes or so, when we tired of playing "Dad, he's looking at me again!" and "How long until we get there?" one of us would sign W.C. to the other car indicating it was time to stop.  

We saw some of the most spectacular sights in Europe... Michelangelo's David, the Mona Lisa, and the Sistine Chapel.  But what do I remember?  I remember being fascinated with the facilities.  

They were different from what we were used to and there was always something new.  You can imagine four teenagers reacting to their first experience with squat toilets!  And one hotel we stayed in had an open bathroom.  It was just a huge tiled room with a sink, toilet and shower head with a drain in the middle of the floor; no partitions, tub or shower curtain.  Just a big ol' tiled room where everything got wet.  Fascinating, right?

So, once again I find myself exploring someplace new and enjoying the Loo Factor.  And not just anyplace, but THE birthplace of the modern flush toilet.  In 1596, Sir John Harrington developed a flushing water closet for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I.  Another reason to love England. 

I've told you before that for some reason it tickles me that bathrooms are quite simply called "toilets" here.  If I ask for directions to the bath/ladies/rest room, I am met with a blank stare. 

But, when I get it right and inquire with "Toilets?" I have to prepare myself for an adventure.  Most of the pubs, cafes and restaurants are in very old buildings so a public toilet was an afterthought.  When these buildings were built, you don't even want to know how they handled human waste. Ew.  So, I'm usually directed to some dark, steep staircase leading down into the depths of the building. I have to resist the urge to put on a miner's helmet and leave a trail of breadcrumbs. 

When I finally do find the little doll-in-a-skirt sign, I'm typically met with not one, but two doors.  This is where you have to use some skills.  You have to push the first door open and it weighs a ton.  Then while holding that door open in a space the size of a broom closet, you have to pull the other door open, which also weighs a ton. 

And then you have to get through them both at the same time without injury.  It's like some freakish Wipe-Out Challenge.  Speaking of a challenge, sometimes instead of the familiar, little doll sign, you are met with something like this...

Gasp!  Men and women will often have to share a bathroom.  My experience in Europe is still very limited, but it seems more common in France.  Some have stalls that are marked for male or female and some are just a free for all. 

Once inside a toilet, except for the odd man coming out of the stall next to me, I'm not surprised by too much.  The typical stuff; no toilet paper, doors that don't latch, watered-down soap and hand dryers that don't work.  One thing you will notice... buttons, not levers, for the flush.  Push the small button for a "small" flush and both if you need something more.  

Oh, and this...

Seriously.  To wash your hands you have to turn on the hot water, which is scorching by the way, and the cold water and then splash them towards each other while avoiding second degree burns. Or as my hubby suggested, just fill the sink.  Because that's what I want to be doing, spending an extra 30 minutes below sea level, fumbling for a non-existent stopper and filling an icky sink up, so I can then stick my hands in the icky sink to get them clean.  I'm afraid I'll just risk the burns.

Another lesson I learned the hard way is "See one, use one."  Because once you are out on the streets of London, you are at the mercy of your bladder.  And now that I'm an older more mature woman,  my bladder gives me less warning than it used to. It's kind of like... NOW!   And that's about it.  No early warning system at all.  tmi, huh?

But public facilities are sometimes hard to find.  This is what you are looking for...

They look like little rubbermaid closets with a royal seal.  Cute, huh?

Another important lesson... "Be Prepared!"  Public toilets require a fee.  Do you know how hard it is to bum a coin off a stranger while doing "the dance?"

I've only used one once and it wasn't too bad at all.  Somehow the whole thing goes through some sort of disinfecting process between each use.  The toilet and the floors are automatically cleaned.  And hey, when you got to go...

So, this brings me back to our little home for the next few weeks.  It's quite a nice bathroom with some interesting features.  

It's a warming towel rack!  You find them in most bathrooms here.  Very cozy after a nice shower.  


This one I don't get.  Instead of a shower curtain, they have this glass door that only covers up half of the tub.  They are very common in the hotels here.  This means two things... a) water all over the floor and b) one half of you is always cold while taking a hot shower.  No shower curtain to keep the warm air in.     

Woohoo.  An adjustable temperature water faucet (tap)!  Also, notice that there are no electrical sockets.  None. You just won't find them in the bathrooms here.  No drying, curling or straightening allowed in the toilet.  You might get shocked.  It's for your protection.  And the perfect  excuse to buy that cute, little vanity table you found at the antique shop. 

And the light switch, is in the hallway.  This means, for those late night potty breaks, no slipping in quietly, shutting the door and then turning on the light, so as not to disturb the light sleeper that you married.  It also means that when he wants revenge for waking him up three times last night, each time he passes through the hallway and the toilet is occupied, he can "accidentally" (exaggerated air quotes for emphasis) flip the switch to leave you fumbling in the dark.  

See!  I told you it was all fascinating stuff.  Everything you didn't want to know about potty breaks in the UK.  Stay tuned for more fascinating updates as we continue to explore. 



  1. This post brought back many memories of pubs in Dublin and London and how I always made a friend go to the toilets with me because the old staircase into darkness always creeped me out!

  2. So funny! It's pretty hard to imagine just how different this "ritual" is until you get here. You've pretty much nailed all the funny peculiarities!

  3. This is hysterical! You are SO right about the Toilets. Thanks for reminding me of great memories as a kid travelling across the ocean and being SO confused.

  4. Don't feel bad...

    When I was 12, or so, Dad was stationed in Germany and the school took a trip to some beautiful Cathedral in Speyer... A real beauty in Romanesque architecture that was built in AD 1030. Still a "working" church, and a museum that houses some great things from that era (including a 1200-year-old bottle of wine (since converted to vinegar), art, and armor that the knights wore.

    What do I remember most about this trip?

    ... a fly, drowning in the Holy Water Font.

  5. I'll never look at a loo break in the same way again lol! I didn't realise the silly heavy doors was a European phenomenon but at the same time it doesn't surprise me lol! We have the half tub glass partition which I think is the dumbest thing ever, no matter how hard I try I always get half the bathroom floor wet hehehe
    Really like this post!

  6. Hi there! Always nice to find a fellow expat! Lovin' the loo peculiarities... My wife picks up on that type of stuff all the time! And you know, we really tried to find a flat with a full shower curtain. But it seems like they just don't exist! :-(

    If you and your hubby would like to meet up for a pint or a coffee sometime, let us know! We're in St. John's Wood for the next couple of weeks.

    By the way, Krispy Kreme has an actual location in the London Bridge tube station. It's much better than the day-old stuff in the cases in Tesco. :-)

    If you get a min, check out our blog: http://www.beejayandkassie.com

    Enjoy the City!

    -Beejay Morgan

  7. Hahaha a lot of people have those glass screens here in the UK ... is that common in your area ? I personally don't like them. You have to clean them a lot. I would rather throw a shower curtain in the washer a couple of times a year and yeah I agree they do keep you warm ... ! x

  8. I personally have a shower curtain (don't like the glass screens), they're a European import as I remember, started seeing them in the late 1980's as they were seen as more "sophisticated" and "continental" than shower curtains!!

  9. Selena you had me in stitches, fortunately without a full bladder!

    I now have fair warning if I ever venture to the UK and will be sure to carry a few spare coins 'just in case'.

    Thank you for adding your selection to this month's 'POTM' Club offerings, it was a delight to meet you.

    Felicity x

  10. You wrote the post I've been wanting to write for the last year! It does seem so crude the ask for toilets, and I'm totally befuddled by the silly half glass on the shower. I was hoping to see more toilets with the tank up high with the hanging chain. They seem to have been phased out - such a shame - so quaint :) Great post for POTMC Club!

  11. I've heard enough horror stories about getting caught in a public restroom during the cleaning cycle, that I'm not sure if I'll ever dare to try one out... And I've lived in France for almost two years now! And let me add there's nothing quite like dangling a potty-training two year old over one of those drains-with-grooves-toilets while your two month old is hanging in the baby bjorn :) Stopping by from POTM, thanks for an entertaining post! - Femme au Foyer

  12. Ha loved this post. Thanks for linking to this, I don't think I would have come across it.

  13. OMG Selena, you are too funny, and SO correct - I've struggled with European loos, the use of the word bathroom (for some reason I've always used it instead of Toilet, or Loo) and yes, the funny little half screens on baths are just bizarre. Just crazy!

  14. Oh my goodness. I have to get a proper shower curtain. When Matt takes a shower the entire bathroom is drenched with water. Ridiculous. 


Thanks for commenting. I love to hear from you!