Peculiarities of National Toilets
Svetlana Vozlinskaya - Pravda (Russia) Oct. 11, 2003
Toilets pacify and equalize everyone without any exceptions.
The toilet has different names in different countries. It is called a bie zasah gar in Mongolia, it is a bathroom or an outhouse in the US. In Russia the toilet has a variety of names: it is a toilet, a sortir, a closet, a public use place, a where-can-I-wash-my-hands-here place, M and ô, a thinking room, a reading room and so on and so forth. In France, when a man is intended to go to a men's room in a restaurant, he can tell his lady: "Madam, I am now going to help my friend, who you are going to be introduced to a bit later."
Every tourist and explorer experiences a discomfort without a toilet. Every foreigner and aborigine rejoice when they see it. Sometimes people are ready to pay any money to make it there. This is a place of bliss because it makes all people equal; it pacifies everyone too - everyone without any exceptions. They say that a human being spends 150 days of life in toilets.
It goes without saying that toilets have certain peculiarities in various countries. They are connected with national traditions and customs, climate conditions, and even inexplicable things. When a friend of mine visited a public toilet in the city of Samarkand (Uzbekistan), he saw a box there filled with small clay balls. As it turned out, it was the Uzbek national "toilet paper."
In the Russian province, all warm and well-equipped toilets are traditionally located in former communist party premises, currently called city administrations. Chargeable public toilets are usually uncomfortable. However, Russians may always enter a public building and ask for temporal help there. I once had an "emergency" in the street, and I had to find a toilet very quickly. The closest public institution to me was the building of the Research Institute. When I asked my question to a female employee of the institute, her answer seemed very strange to me: "I do not know where the toilet is here, I have been working here only for six months."
The majority of chargeable public toilets in Moscow are situated in the center. One may use shrubs or other secret places for free on the outskirts of the city, if there is no large trade center nearby. I personally hate paying money for using a toilet. I think that it is rather a mean way to derive profit from such a need. One shall assume that they will be charging people for breathing their air in their streets. However, there are worthy places in Moscow too: for example near the metro stations Oktyabrskaya or Ryazansky Prospekt. Public toilets are free there. People say that there are toilets in the metro as well. Moreover, they say that metro toilets were originally planned to be public. Needless to mention that such a noble plan was not meant to come true in the Moscow metro. Muscovites may find a help from the West - in the form of a McDonald's restaurant, for example. This help is absolutely free.
In general, one may say that visiting a public toilet in Russia is a safe matter, but unpleasant surprises may happen anyway. A mean and degrading individual may steal your bag and then disappear very quickly - they know that people are absolutely helpless in the toilets, especially women. One has to be on alert all he time. A very interesting story happened to a female tourist during her bus trip across European countries. The bus stopped on the road at night. Tourists got off the bus and went into the bushes to relieve themselves. A woman hung her purse on a bush and forgot about it. She realized she had forgotten it already in the bus, 30 minutes later. The group had to come back. They were looking for the purse with flashlights but could not find it. Maybe, the purse with $5,000 is still hanging somewhere.
In 1935, an American toilet impressed Russian writer Ilya Ilf, one of the authors of the well-known novel "12 Chairs." The writer wrote: "It is comfortable to live in Shelton. As I can see, the toilet costs a fortune in the area." It is not known, what particular detail impressed the Russian writer at that time, but one may find various striking and remarkable toilets abroad nowadays.
There is a very expensive store in London called Harrods, where the Royal Family buy their clothes. There are the doors in the store, and you can see elegantly dressed young men wearing tuxedos, bow-ties and cylinders. They let you in the toilet - it costs almost two dollars to visit a toilet at Harrods. But the toilet is absolutely gorgeous there. Everything is so very luxurious and they use modern technologies too - you do not have to press any buttons to flush there are infrared sensors instead of buttons for hygienic reasons. There are bottles of fine perfume near the mirror, there is even the drinking water.
Speaking about one of the most famous British characters - Sherlock Holmes, Dr.Watson and Mrs. Hudson. The museum in Baker Street represents the details of Mr. Holmes's time: a night pot, towels, a wash-basin and a jar - a very humble place for Sherlock Holmes to go.
All London toilets are free, with the exception of the one at Harrods. It is easy for tourists to find them everywhere in the city: toilets are located near all museums, cathedrals and other places of interest. One may buy a package of very useful things in a London toilet: a disposable toothbrush there with a drop of toothpaste on it, a comb, a tissue and even a condom - a tourist's best friend.
The situation in other countries is different - toilets are chargeable. In certain countries, one has to pay the fee before entering a toilet, whereas in other countries the fee is supposed to be paid after a call of nature has been satisfied. One has to pay even for the toilet paper too. Women watch and take care of public toilets in Hungary, for example. Most often, public toilets in European countries are automatic: you can go in if you put a coin in the slot and you can go out only if you flush. In certain toilets one may see the list of prices converted in all currencies of the world, even in the Japanese yen.
Toilets are presumably chargeable in restaurants in Poland. However, the legends about immaculately clean foreign toilets are exaggerated. For example, it is possible to visit a comfortable and hospitable albeit poorly outfitted closet in a poor quarter of Thailand. there are practically no special public toilets in New York. If a tourist needs to answer a call of nature outside, he or she will have to go to the nearest bar or a coffee shop and head to the door with worldwide known silhouettes. I did not in a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. However, a person is supposed to order something (a glass of water, at least) in a cafe or a restaurant if he or she wants to use the toilet. This rule works in the US and in Holland, France, and Italy, and so on.
There are horrible stories about Venice, though. People say that sporadic public toilets are closed there three times a day, to make unhappy tourists visit cafes. The situation is even more outrageous in Luxembourg - they have chargeable toilets in McDonald's restaurants there although they are free in the rest of the world.
It goes without saying that one does not have to expect any conveniences and luxury from the toilets located at railway stations and airports. Too many people visit them during the day and it is hard to maintain them clean all the time. However, I have seen a luxurious ladies' room in a Canadian airport. There were nice sofas and armchairs, mirrors and tables there. German suburban trains are outfitted with neat and comfortable toilets too.
Railway station toilets can be used as a place to start a romantic relationship too. A handsome black man came up to me at the railway station in Zurich: "I can see you are running around here looking for something, can I help you?" said he. I had to make a shy confession and answer that I was looking for a toilet. He immediately took me there and stayed to wait for me outside. Afterwards he started talking to me very enthusiastically, asking me questions about my life, myself, etc. We had to part when my train arrived.