3/24/09

Restroom conundrums!


Public Toilets (aka - loo/restrooms), an issue that definitely deserves a UK vs US comparison.

First let me say upfront that my whole life I have always drunk more water in the day than average. The result of this being, ‘I need’ to know where the next clean public convenience is going to be or I am just going to fret!

In the UK this is more of a problem than you may imagine. You see business owners back home are not as obliging with lending out their ‘facilities’ as they are here. Smaller garages (Quick Stops here) sometimes do not have a 'public' toilet, the bigger ones will, and only the bigger stores tend to have them. So if you are shopping in a Mall or Strip Mall you’re likely to find one, but if you are just out on a Main St, the shops won’t usually allow you to use their toilet. You can bet on a fast food shop like KFC, McDonalds etc….but a small café or restaurant generally won’t let you use it unless you are a customer!



We do have either old style city council toilets, which trust me are not the most inviting or clean places! Or even worse we have highly visible individual modern toilets, that automatically clean themselves after each customer. But they’re so darned conspicuous most people are wary of entering one, because everyone nearby knows what you’re up to and can you REALLY trust that automatic door! I have always been a too nervous to use one, as it might open early and expose me to the world!!



But more than anything I am ashamed to say that by comparison to the USA, our toilets are often dirty, there’s just no denying it! One of my most embarrassing moments was getting off a flight from Chicago at London Heathrow and rushing with many American ladies to the nearest off plane toilet. It was filthy, one toilet was flooding and there was no toilet paper, I just stayed quiet so nobody knew I was British!

Now compare this to what meets Brit’s at US airports on arrival. After using the ones at O’Hare I had to call my mum just to tell her about the amazing toilets! First of all I couldn’t even put my contact lenses back in (sitting on the loo is a great place to do this), without it flushing every few second as I moved a millimetre! But even more amazing when I first went in, there was a paper cover on the seat that did a complete revolution when it sensed my movement, so I had clean paper to sit on – WOW! Then the water at the sink came on automatically, the soap dispensed automatically and the paper towels did too when I waved my hand around!!

Facts are facts - USA = LOO HEAVEN

Your toilets are nearly always clean! I mean there’s always the odd occasion when they're not, but trust me you are light years ahead of the UK on cleanliness in restrooms. I have also learned to relax about where the next one is going to be.

Just about every store, café, business or garage you go in, no matter their size, has a public restroom you can use and it’s usually stocked and clean. Only once since I arrived here have I been caught short and had to use a dirt road behind the Pickup (I was too nervous of snakes to venture across the bar ditch) out in the canyons.

There is however one very disconcerting element to US toilets that causes us Brit's some distress. Why are there gaps between the wall and door panels of the cubicle?! I can't tell you how much these gaps worry me, I will always choose the cubicle with a screening wall in front if it's an option. And god forbid I have to use the cubicles that are directly opposite the mirrors, where everyone can have a sneaky look! I try to hang my handbag across the gap, but even I don't have one that big! Now I for one am far too embarressed to even glance at those gaps, but how do I know as a foreigner, that American women don't all look in the gaps for a good laugh?

I would choose the US highly commendable restroom situation over the UK anytime. So if you ever venture to the UK you have been warned, always carry tissues and do not get caught short. If you are a Brit’ heading over here, enjoy and be prepared for some eye opening and slightly scarily efficient restrooms!

31 comments:

SweetPeaSurry said...

LMAO @ Loo Heaven! That is too funny. I'll be sure not to use one of those new fangled toilets if I ever get across the pond! :)

blessings!

Kay said...

I can definitely relate to this post. I HAVE to know where the toilets are. Since I'm from Illinois, I've flown out of O'Hare many, many times. The toilets are pretty good but I find the little seat covers are almost always empty. I keep waving my hand in front and nothing happens. Hmmm... maybe I'm doing something wrong again.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

I wish the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority would get the hint. The only public toilets are the porta pottys. The stores and restaurants on the turnpike don't do that great a job keeping theirs clean.

I've wondered about the gap but have never said anything about it or heard anybody say anything.

Sandi McBride said...

Loo Heaven? Well, I've come across a few here that I'd take the old board across the hole in the floor like some (unnamed)countries I've seen, but you're right Sarah for the most part our ladies rooms are usually pretty clean...I've always wondered about the men's rooms tho...lol
Sandi

Daryl said...

Let me tell you about something that might happen only here .. if you hang your purse on that hook in the hopes you'll over the 'gap' .. well you also might get your purse stolen .. yes there are thieves in the US who prey on women who hang their purses on loo doors .. an arm is raised and a hand reaches over the top and POUF your purse/wallet/et al is GONE and your sitting there with your knickers around your ankles/knees . how are you going after them?

Juat sayin .. worry more about germs and safety of your belongings and dont worry about the 'gap' ...

expateek said...

Ha! Shows I don't have a criminal mind... I never even thought of looking through the gap! I guess in your case, you "mind the gap" no matter which side of the pond you're on!

I agree with you. The most dire public toilet I was ever in was in Windsor, right by Eton. Absolutely vile. You never can tell about those public school boys I guess.

karen said...

Sarah, I don't even want to tell you about the public loos in Africa!!You can just let your imagination run wild... :)

Silverback said...

Always a generalisation of course and related from personal experiences. Mens restrooms on both sides of the pond are notoriously worse than the ladies as basically we're animals and being able to stand to pee means we can still use a toilet even if it's a disgusting mess - and so the mess remains.
Thankfully I rarely have to 'go' in public but those freaking door gaps drive me nuts too. WHY do they exist ?

Ronnica said...

I must say, I think all airport bathrooms tend to be poorly tended...at least in the run-down parts of the airports my smaller flights tend to be.

I love the outsider look on American toilets! My roommate has a collage of international toilet pictures over her toilet...it's hilarious!

Margaret said...

I hate the cracks in the doors here too. I don't know about other US women, but I don't peek in.

Vintage Tea said...

Loved this post! Whenever I visit the US we always moan to each other about the cubicle gaps!

I think toilets at cinemas are the worst in the UK!

Victoria x

Sarah (JOT) said...

When I was in high school (twenty years ago) we had exchange students. One was from Finland and she told me American toilets flush so loud the first time she heard it she screamed it scared her so bad. Huh. So, do you think they are loud? I mean, the public ones. Compared to the ones in our homes, I would say "yes".

Sassy Britches said...

Soooo true about the gaps. I hate them. Because I don't actually LOOK, but sometimes my eye zooms past to get to another point in the room as I'm waiting in line, and hellllooo you can totally see what they're doing in there!

And I'm with Daryl: prop your purse on the TP holder or something; people swipe purses from the hooks.

I'm not sure I've gotten used to the automatic flushing thing. I feel like it's a HUGE waste of water. Plus, I didn't ask for a bidet, for god's sake. My pants are not absorbent enough for the spray that ends up all over the backs of my legs if I don't jump us fast enough!

gigihawaii said...

Eh, Sarah, UK toilets are definitely better than squatting over a hole in the ground -- common in Thailand when I was there in 1969.

Anonymous said...

I've lived here my entire life and have really never noticed the gaps in the stalls. I suppose that means I don't have any interest in peeking in. Can't imagine who would, really.

I've read complaints on other blogs that the TP in US public toilets is inferior to the toilet roll in the UK. I suspect that might be true since the paper in the US lavs is almost always one ply and not soft at all. I imagine that's to save money.

Daisigirl said...

What I hate is when I am waiting to use the bathroom and my eyes accidentally wander over to that gap and the person inside is looking at me! It's so embarrassing!

andy said...

too funny, I am such a toilet worrier due to the whole irritable bowel thing-y. It seriously dictates most aspects of my existence, so a clean biffy is certainly a necessity.

Dave Pie-n-Mash said...

Funny! You are dead right about the bogs in this country! Especially about the gaps between the door and walls!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Great post! The worst loo I ever went in was in France last year. It was positively disgusting.

CJ xx

Winifred said...

Once in desperation I used one of these automated loos with my grandson. I was terrified we wouldn't get out and it would satrt its automatic cleaning with us in it. YUK!!!!

Have to say the UK airports I've used have been fine. The Newcastle ones are pretty good and Heathrow was OK last time I was there. For sheer YUK try Greek ones especially if there are flight delays. The cleaners do a runner when the queues build up. Last time I was in Paphos airport it was obvious they don't expect anyone to change a baby in its vicinity!

I can't visualise these gaps in the toilet Sarah, wish you had taken a photo. Mind you someone might think you were a peeping Tom if you did. The mind boggles as to why anyone would build loos with gaps! Exhibitionism?

Expat mum said...

Now don't get me started....except I have to say that after 19 years here, I still feel really guilty walking into a MacDonalds with no intention of buying anything, only to use their loo.

Mare said...

There's no place like home!

Iota said...

You sum it up perfectly.

All the automatic equipment is a nightmare if you have a toddler with you. They didn't think about that when they designed them. My daughter is terrified of the automatic flush. The soap always misses her small hand, the water doesn't activate because her arm is at the wrong angle (I assume that's why), and if it does, it doesn't stay on long enough, and the paper towel isn't big enough to dry her hands AND all the splash she's made on the sink surround. But mostly it's the flush that's the problem - it's often activated while she's still on the seat, and that's pretty scary for a small child.

And as for the gaps, well, they're another small child hazard. What toddler can resist pressing her face up against the door to see who is inside? I have to keep her on a very tight handhold in a restroom!

I hate one-ply toilet paper, though.

Joshua said...

I was amazed during my first trip to Italy to see something called a "pay toilet." In comparison to the public facilities, the pay toilets were always clean and well worth the Euro fee.

Jo, a retired teacher said...

Fun post. It made me very glad to be here and not in Thailand or Africa or somewhere. The truly beautiful and spotless bathrooms are in big casinos (like in Las Vegas). I guess the happier the customers are, the more they bet.

Lover of Life said...

LOL! I am soooo fussy about clean toilets - I have been known to give hapless gas station attendants the "heads up" that their toilets are dirty or need to be stocked. We actually buy gas based on the past cleanliness of their bathrooms. Growing up in Nevada, however, sagebrush and the back of pick-ups are part of life.

Another funny fact - the Midwest does not use the paper toilet covers! Not a happy revelation when we moved there a few years ago. I finally got the nerve to bring it up to a friend who was born in Wisconsin, but now lives on the West Coast. She said she never uses them, even when available! I guess she just never had them and didn't get used to using them. They are a must in my book - otherwise I make my own with t-paper. Gosh I guess I might be a wee bit fanatical...

Gaelyn said...

Sure was an adjustment when the new automatic hands-off things came to the Loo.

You should visit Mexico, no seat, buy two squares of paper at the door--which is opened not closed--no paper in the toilet and a bucket and barrel full of water for flushing. Wear your waders.

Troy said...

I love the expression "the toilet sensed my movement".

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Yes, public loos in the UK are notoriously poor, and not that plentiful I am sorry to say...

There are some exceptions, and I've often thought about creating a kind of Best Ladies' Loos Map to the UK!

Snippety Gibbet said...

On a related topic, one of the new expressions in our household is now "I have to spend a penny."

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Snippety - LOL!