Frankly, my dear...

A place to just Fiddledeedee
AUGUST 1, 2011 1:06PM

Behind Closed Doors

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 I’ve mentioned previously how impressed I’ve been with the standards of efficiency, cleanliness and courtesy while travelling around the States. Visitors to any country are bound to do comparison acts and without a doubt, there are many things I believe England could emulate which would improve standards here a great deal. Of course there were things I missed and prefer at home, plus a few niggles and conditions I didn’t like about America, but on the whole my complaints are few.

It would take forever to compare all the differences in standards between my country and the U.S.A, so I hope by undertaking a comparative study of a small area it will enable readers to imagine the bigger picture.   It may not be the most tasteful of topics, but as we all at some stage have to use them, I consider it appropriate to focus on the diversity of restrooms. After two trips to America I’ve visited many and even though I can only vouch for the female of the species, I believe I’ve spent enough time waiting outside the men’s to observe the facts.

Here we refer to them as the toilet, loo, ladies, little room or bog, but never, ever as a restroom. Understandable as it’s probably the last place in England, you’d ever have a chance to rest. Making sure you go before leaving home is a foregone conclusion in a country where you’re never sure where there’ll be one or what state it will be in once you’re out and about. Uttering a silent prayer your bladder and bowels will restrain themselves until you return home is also a given, as no one relishes the idea of using our public conveniences outside of a five star hotel.

America, God bless her, seems to have got it right. In England, it’s essential to perfect the art of leg-crossing while jiggling about in the queue which snakes out of every Ladies toilet door. Our public toilets are few and far between as a way of discouraging crime and drug users to abuse the premises. That generally means a long walk to an area you hadn’t planned on visiting until nature called, where there will always be a queue no matter what time of the day or night. The ones bathed in luminous blue lights so drug addicts can’t find a vein to inject their next fix are becoming more the norm here.

Not so in the U.S.A. in my experience. Restrooms are available everywhere; spacious, airy, clean, attractive and never a queue. There’s no need to check for feet beneath a cubicle either, as all toilet locks are in working order and it’s obvious which toilets are occupied. Here you can get attacked or a mouth full of abuse after tentatively opening a toilet door you think may be vacant, only to discover some twenty-stone goth in tattered black clothing with panda eyes glaring threateningly into yours.

So, no waiting or nerves in America as you confidently enter a loo and hang your bag on the hook that is always present on the back of the door. That’s a treat in England and being taught never to put anything on the floor of a toilet for fear of germs, you generally end up hanging your bag round your neck. Not that you’d risk the floor anyway; puddles, paper, discarded crisp packets and other things I’d rather not describe are generally floating around down there, ensuring it essential to make as little contact with the floor as possible. In past times, there used to be attendants working on the premises, but nowadays the loo frequently closes down at the busiest times of the day, while a cleaner, usually male, dashes in and flicks a mop around. Most toilets in the U.S. are immaculately clean by comparison and many complete with friendly, female attendants.

I sampled many different restrooms in many different places, but not once did I discover one without toilet paper. It’s so common in England women automatically go out with packets of tissues in their bags, but it’s not much fun scrabbling in it when it’s hanging round your neck and woe betide anyone who has a cold and no tissues left, or just a crumpled one already used for nose-blowing. Of course, we’re a friendly nation on the whole, so providing the adjacent cubicles are occupied there’s always the option to yell for any paper available to be rolled under or thrown over the cubicle divides. Not an action that helps in the art of appearing sophisticated however.

Now we move onto flushing. In England there are several scenarios. The first is a broken handle or one that despite contortions refuses to release a drop of water. The second is an overactive flusher that continues to pump out water at an alarming rate, forcing you to dash from the toilet in fear, particularly if you can’t swim too well. Then there’s the old-fashioned ones with long metal chains attached to a cistern near the ceiling. Frequently, no matter how many attempts or how hard you yank them there’s never a positive result. This explains why many of them have broken off, making it impossible for an average-sized woman to reach the tiny piece of chain dangling seven feet above the floor without standing on the toilet seat. That is if there is one. I reckon the three little words ‘It won’t flush,’ are spoken between strangers in England more than any others.

All American toilets have efficient flushing systems; hell, the majority of them even flush themselves without even being asked or touched. I had several panic attacks at the start of our first trip when this happened, but as I got used to it, I much appreciated not having to perform muscle-developing exercises attempting to force handles to move, or wondering what was on my hands after attempting to flush while in contact with something sticky.

Then there are the hand-washing facilities. In England you sometimes need a degree to work out how the tap turns on. No amount of twisting, pulling, pushing or kicking will result in water flowing and if it does, it will either be freezing cold or so hot you come away with third degree burns. Of course there’s rarely any soap or the dispenser is empty, leaking, broken or pumps out a huge glob of something that looks and smells foul and refuses to lather. If you’re lucky enough to find a tap that works efficiently, you can bet you’ll have a problem getting it to turn off or finding how to empty the sink. There won’t be any paper towels except on the floor and the hand driers are either out of order or as efficient as a mouse fart. Drip drying or scrabbling for those tissues is the general solution.

The taps, soap dispensers, hand dryers and towel dispensers are all in good working order in America. Recycled paper slides effortlessly from wall machines just by sensing a hand underneath them and the hot air from the dryers actually only takes a few seconds to allow you to leave with perfectly dry hands and a pleasant expression on your face. Oh, we could learn so much about efficiency, hygiene and avoiding frustration from the restrooms of America.

God bless them and all who pee/shit relieve themselves in them.


Behind closed doors

You can’t imagine.

Behind closed doors

Is where it happens.

Behind closed doors

That’s where the truth is.

Behind Closed Doors – Peter Andre.

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Linda, when I saw your title my little brain went a totally different direction and you can imagine my surprise when I read your topic. Yes, most restrooms are clean here, but lord there are exceptions such as the tiny gas station off the interstate late at night on a weekend when the drunks are all in there praying to the porcelean god. Oh and many bus station's bathrooms should be considered bio-hazards. But all in all....yeah we got clean restrooms and lots of them but what else would you expect from a folks so full of.....nebbermind.
A very perceptive post, Linda. Sometimes I think Americans are too clean--and up tight.
Interesting subject Linda. As long as it wasn't the highlight of your trip!! Believe me, there certainly are some bad ones here too.
Well, as a couple of commenters said, America has some awful 'rest-rooms'. And on my trip to Glastonbury and area last summer, I had no complaints. But you know your country, and America (until recently) has been a prosperous place, which showed right down to the loos... At the rate things are going, tho...
Good topic, Linda. I've spent quite a fair bit of time in the UK, and though the loos are definitely not as "restful" as those in North America, I don't know that I saw any that were quite as bad as you describe. I guess I avoided those ones. It's amazing the things one can write about... R
This was so much fun to read! I remember my first encounter with stiff, brown toilet pape: 1971, a public toilet in Hampstead Heath. Nowadays we sell it as unbleached eco-paper for more than Charmin.
Hanging the bag around one's never occurred to me! We still have our lockless, hookless accomodations. You seem to have lucked out rather well!