I just realized I haven’t written about our recent hike around the Isle of Wight (the one in England). Should I write about the incredible Coastal Path, the Tennyson Memorial, the wildflowers and the wild, rocky cliffs?
Nah, I’m gonna write about the toilets. Well, one particular toilet. A square one. That’s right, at two different places, I came across one of these…
A square toilet seat! What’s up with that? And how many millions of years will it take our butts and bodies to adapt and become square?
My friend Tania wondered if people’s butts are becoming more square “because we sit so much.” Sounds logical.
Phil asked if we were staying in Trafalgar Square. Ha, good one.
Turns out, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about toilets. Nor will it be the last. In the midst of my 2018 bike trip through Bordeaux, I came across an all-in-one toilet sink. I don’t know about you, but washing my hands that close to where countless people did you know what, is not very appealing. Or sanitary. Here, take a look…
All the way back on October 12, 2000, in my More Stuff column, I wrote the following…
The French pride themselves on their cheese and have something like 800 million registered brands. That’s nothing compared to all the different kinds of toilets they have, not to mention all the different ways there are to flush them. I think they do this to confuse and disorient weary travelers.
So, I’m at a cafe, the hub of social life in France, and a place people often enter just to use the facilities. I find the WC, enter and, it’s a squat toilet. No seat, just a large porcelain bin on the floor and two porcelain spots that are sort of shaped like feet and upon which you are supposed to put your feet. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.
Then there’s this: A normal toilet, except no seat. When this happens, it takes me an extra few minutes to arrange my protective layer of toilet paper, which, in France, is usually pink, if there even is toilet paper. The goal is to arrange my protective layer in such a way that no part of me will touch anything other than pink toilet paper. And then, as I prepare to sit down, half the damn pink toilet paper usually falls to the disgusting floor, and I have to start all over.
And then there’s the challenge of flushing, which you wouldn’t think would be difficult. Let’s just say there are so many different things to push, pull, poke, prod and pound in frustration.
Then there was this…
I’m at a restaurant and head to the bathroom. And can’t find the light switch. Anywhere. It’s not on the wall outside the WC, it’s not on the wall inside. It’s nowhere to be found. It doesn’t seem to exist. And then … a bathroom brainstorm! I shut and lock the door, and, when I click the lock, voila, the light goes on.
This column seemed to strike a chord with a lot of readers, and I did a followup on October 22, 2000…
One reader, who didn’t give his/her name, wrote: “Please, the next time you feel the urge to disclose your bathroom techniques, simply lie down until the urge passes.”
Someone else wrote: “One of the most beautiful countries in the world and all you can write about is its toilets?”
Joanne Fulcoly wrote: “I could really relate. This summer, I went with my two daughters and their husbands and children to Paris. The restrooms are hard to describe! I was not thrilled with the unisex ones, and hated that pink toilet paper! We had the most trouble with the round, silver ones that took coins to get the doors to open. It was an enlightening experience to all.”
Dave Bayer wrote: “I guess you discovered why we are ahead of the Europeans intellectually, they don’t read as much as we do. With toilets like that, how can they?”
Anne Scheidell wrote to tell me “a professor from St. Joe’s wrote a book called Flushing Your Way Through Europe or something like that. I looked on amazon.com and couldn’t find this book, but did find The Porcelain God: A Social History of the Toilet, The Johns We’ve Known: Humorous Short Stories and Essays About Restrooms and Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper.
Vicki Miller, 16, told me all about her bathroom adventure: “I went to Japan in 1998 with the 4-H Exchange Program (and) we decided to try and figure out the toilet. Since we’re Americans, we knew we could figure it out.
“The toilet had all these interesting knobs and gadgets on it and we wanted to know what they did. So we pushed the buttons and played with the knobs and nothing happened. We figured out the toilet was pressure activated, you need someone on the toilet for it to work. So, we had someone standing on the toilet seat and then pushed the buttons.
“Curiosity killed the cat, but in my case I just got soaked. A thing like a bidet came out and started spraying water EVERYWHERE! We all got soaked, the bathroom was all wet, and we didn’t know how to stop it. We were hitting all the buttons and nothing worked. It finally stopped when the person standing on the toilet seat lost their balance and fell into the bathtub.”
This summer, Vicki was in Peru and she said that the tip “Sure made me thankful for toilet seats.”
See, travel really is educational.