When you travel, the idea is to experience new people, places, cultures and traditions. Along with those lofty ideals comes the simple mechanics of how people deal with the every day functions we all participate in. As soon as we landed in Heathrow, there was a rush for relief so one of our first learning experiences was the loo.
To begin with, part of the experience is learning the name of the place you wish to go. In the US we have multiple names, such as bathroom, restroom, lavatory, ladies room, powder room, potty, etc. I think it’s safe to say that one of the more common names is the restroom.
If you ask someone where the “restroom” is in UK, they’ll direct you to a funeral parlor, so perhaps that’s not the best option!
In UK, the normal signage to look for is simply “Toilets”. There it is, bold as brass. Toilet. In conversation, however, you’re more apt to hear people inquiring as to where the “Ladies” is or perhaps they simply ask for the “Loo”. Occasionally, I saw the letters WC, which stands for Water Closet.
No matter. Whatever name you choose to use, the end result is the same, so there we were in Heathrow, standing in queue (line) and all I hear are kids marveling over how different the facilities were.
In England, the basic concept is that you have an individual ROOM in which to take care of your needs. There are solid walls on either side of you and a full, fitted, floor to ceiling door. No bending down and peeking under the stall door to see if there are feet in the UK. More often than not, there is an “Occupied” or “Vacant” dial that changes as you lock or unlock this door so you know if someone is using the facility.
The actual toilet itself was another difference. Some of them were square in shape and most had a different flushing action from the toilets in US. In the UK it was always an issue of figuring out how to flush for the next patron. There were chains to pull, levers on the wall, or buttons on the wall that you simply passed your finger over to do the honors. I found this to be far more efficient than the automatic flushing system in the US where you walk into the stall, and it flushes, you do your business, it flushes, you re-arrange your clothing and go to leave and – it flushes again. That is, of course, assuming it worked at all.
And finally, cleanliness. The UK actually has a Loo of the Year award, which if won will be displayed proudly on the wall of the winning loo. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to use one of these award winning loos at the Tower of London.
I must say, if nothing else, the British certainly do keep a clean loo. I’m afraid, dear old US of A, you are going to have to clean up your act, because in this smack-down, the UK is clearly the winner!!