Tutus and Toilets

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The other day I met up with a gal who went through school with my kids in New Jersey and lives not far from me here in Cali. I hadn’t seen her since probably their college days and she’s a young Mom with an absolutely delightful four-year-old. We had a lovely lunch and when it was time to go I stopped off to use the ladies’ room before I got back on the road.

I’ve lived here 3.5 years now and even though it was early afternoon, you just never know how long a trip going anywhere can take you.  You may get back to your home in record time, but that doesn’t always mean faster than usual. It can also mean record time for sitting in traffic.

So, I walked into the rest room at this well-known national chain restaurant noted for its cheesecake and I thought I’d walked into the cockpit of a Stealth fighter plane. Everything in there was black. The booths, the fixtures, the sinks, the tile work, the ceiling, the floor etc. It was all I could do to find the shiny chrome handle to open one of the cubicles.   At one point I even thought about searching in my purse for that little pocket flashlight that I carry with me. Of course, this got me to thinking about my experiences in other bathrooms.

I can ask where a bathroom is in fifteen different languages. That’s the only thing I can say in fifteen languages. Or for that matter, in more than two. I can even sign for one if need be. I’ve had some interesting experiences heeding nature’s call.

One of my favorite episodes took place on my very first trip to Europe. We arrived in Italy, jet-lagged and with furry mouths from having enjoyed too much of the wine on the way over there. I needed to find the facilities almost as soon as they opened the door to the jetway. I had no idea that toilets there would be different from the United States, but apparently they were.

I finished up and began to look around for a foot pedal, a chain, a button or a lever to flush.  Nothing. There was a “tissue box” embedded in the back wall. I thought that was an odd place for a tissue box, but hey, this was all new territory for me. Who knows what Europeans do with Kleenex? Well, it turned out that the “tissue box” was actually the flush mechanism.

A couple of days later we were in a very, very old museum in Milan. I once again needed a ladies room. I wandered around til I found a familiar symbol for rest room and went in. There was a hole in the ground with treads on either side. I stood there for a minute, totally perplexed as to what I was supposed to do. Obviously you didn’t sit on this. I am not great at balancing and it appeared that was what was required in order to utilize this particular toilet. I opted to leave the museum earlier than planned and flee back to the safety of my very modern hotel room…which had a tissue box embedded in the wall in that bathroom.

A few years ago one of my very best friends and I were traveling in Southeast Asia. By this time I had quite a few international miles under my belt so I wasn’t shocked when we were out in the countryside of Thailand visiting a local market and needed the use of the facilities. We gave the lovely young woman at the door of a makeshift tent a few bhat and she handed each of us a very pretty pink child’s pail decorated with flowers, filled with water and a few sheets of folded toilet paper. By this time I actually knew what a “squat pan” was and how to use it….but more importantly, I had a much better sense of balance since I’d started exercising in between that first venture into the museum in Milan and this in the “wilds” outside Banghkok.

I think, however, my “favorite” bathroom episode took place in Mexico.

We were with a group of friends, laughing, drinking Margaritas and having a grand old time in a little local restaurant on the edge of Cancún. I excused myself and went down the hall to use one of the two side-by-side lavatories. I was just finishing up when a man came bursting in, pushing the door open with one hand while unzipping his pants with the other. He stopped, very surpised to see me. Well, he wasn’t nearly as shocked as I was. He began speaking to me rapidly in Spanish, which I can understand a little, and gesturing at the picture that was on the outside of the door which he was still holding open. It was of a cartoon Hippo, dancing. I stepped out and looked at both restroom doors. When he realized that I didn’t really understand what he was saying he stopped and in halting English said to me “Didn’t you see that that one is wearing a tutu?” Apparently I did not.

I will tell you, however, now every time I go into a restroom now and there is something other than “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” or “Men” and “Women” on the plaques I check to see what the symbol on the door is wearing. I will never mistake a dancing male Hippo for a female again.

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