What Travel Writers Say


The swirling world of public toilets & mom's operational numbers: "1" & "2"
© Mike Keenan

 
The sign said don't do it, so naturally I did it. Signs are always saying stuff
in a silent way. Writing is a way to say something in a silent way.

- Jarod Kintz


Those who travel learn how to interpret signs whether found along the roadside, inside airports, other buildings, along streets, highways and such. Interpreting signs is a vital skill if one expects to successfully navigate from point A to point B.
     Because Abraham Maslow rates the need for "elimination" fairly high up in his famous hierarchy of needs, accordingly, the most important sign for me is always the one that reveals the precise direction to the public washroom.
     Depending on where one lives, it might be called a bathroom, restroom, latrine, comfort room, powder room, toilet room, washroom, crapper, john, water closet, W.C., public lavatory, lav or loo.) Remember when you needed to go and your mother asked if it was "one" or "two"? Your mother might have numerically described it thus when you were just getting established in Freud's early developmental stages, and any port in the storm however named seemed most welcome.
     The bottom line, so to speak, is that a public toilet is a room that contains one or more toilets and possibly urinals. The fun part is that public toilets are usually separated by gender into male and female opportunities, although some might be uniquely characterized as unisex. Thus, your ports in a storm are distinctly labeled.
     In my case, I am often considered as having a disability and special facilities are set aside for those of my ilk, often enlarged spatially to facilitate the entry of a wheelchair. Also, handicapped facilities often eliminate (good word) the need to travel up or down long flights of stairs. However, to be frank, if my need is urgent enough, I look upon ALL toilets as unisex whenever one is unoccupied!
     Toilets sometimes are attended or staffed by someone who expects a tip. In the Middle East, I encountered attendants who sold toilet paper (in rather small quantities) as the stalls offered none. And even in Canada, I have encountered courteous types ready to attend to my post lavatory needs, and to be honest, this is always quite an awkward occasion for me because, no doubt, it dredges up from my unconscious, those anxious months of infantile toilet training along with the distasteful auditory feedback after I had reported a successful "#1" or "2", with trite phrases like "good boy!" Let's just say that I'm an introvert in the washroom, and that's the way I like it. Forget the typical team-building of Western commerce when it comes to my basic need. I prefer to bravely go it alone without grooming aids, advice, well wishes or congratulatory remarks!

World Toilet Signs   World Toilet Signs   World Toilet Signs    World Toilet Signs    World Toilet Signs

     Fortunately for the traveller, these myriad way stations are easily found in most railway stations, airports, schools, bars, restaurants, nightclubs or service stations as well as on other long distance public transportation vehicles. And when one attends large sized festivals and other public events outdoors, there are often "portable" devices set up to attend to our needs.
     In the USA, Americans seem to prefer the term "restroom" over "bathroom" because public restrooms in fact, rarely have bathtubs and "washroom" is often used for a "laundry room" which is not what I need, unless there has been a slight "accident." Normally, accidents for men can be minimized with ample use of the hot air-blowing mechanical hand dryer affixed to the wall.
     In Canada, in the average home, we tend to favour "bathroom," and visitors will politely enquire, "May I use your bathroom?" as opposed to "Where's the crapper?" Public facilities are usually called "washrooms." Men's and ladies' facilities are not normally situated next to each other in our department stores, and they may be referred to simply as "the ladies' room" or "the men's room." We would never ask, "Where's the powder room?" or more grossly, "Where's the "toilet?"
     Brits seem to prefer the "public loo," whereas in far away South Africa, "toilet" and "restroom" are terms commonly used. In the Philippines, "comfort room" or "C.R." is the most common term whereas in non-English speaking Europe, either the local translation of "toilet" ("toilette" in French), or "WC" (abbreviation for "water closet") are commonly used. In Germany, toilets in buildings such as hotels are often labeled with the room number "00."
     In China and most of the third world, one encounters the culture shock of the "squat toilet" which requires balance and dexterity as well as courage as there is no device to sit upon and read the morning newspaper. These open-ended facilities are always quite threatening to Westerners as is the concept of public toilets in general. In the west, many cities have proudly introduced "automatic" facilities that extol their technological advances and seem to be a cross between a car wash and a toilet.

World Toilet Signs   World Toilet Signs   World Toilet Signs    World Toilet Signs    World Toilet Signs

     In North America, public toilets were traditionally signed as "Gentlemen" or "Ladies" and as "Gents" or "Ladies" in colloquial use. Aside from linguistic classification which can become quite boring, let's take a look at public toilets grouped by gender through the use of pictograms and such, some of which are quite amusing in their creative displays which depict a man or a woman. I will not discuss transgender people as I have no idea how they might best be displayed (perhaps a question mark); however, the last source website listed below groups all of these signs into rather interesting categories.
     "Genital shapes" simply depict male & female genitalia, in varying degrees of exactness, and yes, in the case of men, there is often exaggeration in size! "Body shapes" are also used specific to gender. With "comparative urination," the signs depict differences in how different genders urinate but rarely defecate because it's the same position, but you will notice that one of the visual samples discriminates in this case only by the use of hairstyle.
     There are also sign variations that depict the painful, legs crossed experience of waiting in seeming agony. In "gender transference," the signs depict animals in lieu (pun!) of people. In the case of "reference by material possession," the signs identify gender by things that are characteristically owned by each sex. For example, shoes for women and a case of beer for men. Sometimes, to avoid confusion, the sign is a "direct portrayal" of each sex, often a picture of a man or a woman. "Culturally specific references" are images that are well-known within the host culture, and easily recognized.
     To conclude this treatise on world toilets, we might take a brief look at astronauts and their elimination predicament encountered in space. A space or zero gravity toilet is used in a weightless environment by careful employment of air flow. Since air used to direct the waste is returned to the cabin, it is filtered beforehand to control odor and get rid of bacteria. In the original systems, waste water was simply vented into space and solids compressed and stored for removal upon landing. Fortunately, most of us will have no need for zero gravity toilets.
     As for toilets themselves, my all-time personal favourite is the powerful well-named American Standard Champion which constantly amazes me with its force and efficiency. I'm sure that it could easily flush down a good-sized cat. In the video, it easily flushes 18 golf balls, 38 rubber tubes, 16 water wigglers, 40' of toilet paper, and 1000 grams of Miso. This device is so powerful that we often invite friends over just to watch it flush. We are almost out of golf balls.

You Tube
You Tube


Photo Credits
see sources

Sources
http://www.funtasticus.com/2008/04/16/toilet-signs-from-all-over-the-world/
http://www.travelbyu.com/blog/funny-toilet-signs-around-the-world/
http://sensemaya.org/maya/2008/05/03/semiotics-toilet-signs
(this one provides categories)

Toilets in Computers

If you "gotta go"
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_toilet

Travel Aid
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Google interactive map): http://maps.google.com/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Media Guide (local newspapers with current listings): http://www.abyznews...
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
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