Having even less to do than I usually avoid doing since the Great and Ongoing Pandemic of the 21st Century began, I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate on all manner of human behavior. While some people have been concerned about the effects of Covid-19 and how it is transmitted in order to spare society as a whole, others have been concerned with personal hygiene.
Yesterday, I heard a commercial that assured me that the manufacturer is working 24 hours a day to provide me with toilet paper. Huh. Didn’t make me want to squeeze them. Earlier during this pandemic, people became so obsessed with cleanliness that they hoarded toilet paper, causing shortages, stampedes, and short tempers. Really. People were lining up at the crack of dawn for toilet tissue and smacking each other with packages of Quilted Northern.
As one little woman with a big-box-store package of Charmin living with an even smaller woman with a big-box-store package of Cottonelle, my household had sufficient tissue for personal hygiene going into 2022. Still, I switched from using four squares to three, if you know what I mean.
Previously, the Japanese set the standard for personal hygiene. In 1997, I spent two nights in a Radisson Hotel at the Narita Airport outside Tokyo. I’m pretty sure I remember that the bathroom’s sink, toilet, and tub were molded from one continuous flow of fiberglass, like the head on a boat. I became transfixed by the toilet, which had a choice of in-bowl lighting colors, heated seat with several spray settings of warm water fancier than any European bidet, and a gentle pouf of air, heated or not, at my discretion. [I say “pretty sure I remember,” because I had severe jetlag and may have hallucinated at the sight of a glowing toilet in the dark.]
I certainly appreciate a good bidet with clean linen towels and finely-milled soap, but this was a spa experience in my own room and at a Radisson Hotel to boot. How superb the toilets in the Imperial Palace must be!
Should I wish to recreate my travel experiences, I see on Amazon that you can get a spray hookup for your own toilet. It connects to the toilet tank’s water inlet valve, which, having learned in widowhood to be my own plumber, I know is C-O-L-D water. Picture that going up your whatzzit in the middle of the night.
I’ve done a lot of traveling throughout my life and learned some valuable lessons, the most important of which was taught by My Mother: “When you find a toilet, use it, whether you think you need to or not, because another one may not present itself for many miles down the road.” Actually, those are my words. She would have said, “Go. Now.” I would add, “and always have a tissue in your pocket, because there are no guarantees that toilet paper will provided, just when you need it the most.”
Consequently, I have been grateful to use all manner of public sanitation. Before I was five, I visited my first outhouse, when we traveled to visit My Mother’s family in Kentucky. In the Appalachia of the 1950s, indoor plumbing, even in the nicest of homes, was as scarce as hen’s teeth. If you think lack of toilet paper is scary, take a walk through a garden path to the outhouse on a cold November night with only a flashlight for company, because the toilet seat was neither lighted nor heated. My Mother had to hold me over the dank abyss, so I didn’t fall in.
Because I never pass up the opportunity, I’ve seated myself in port-a-potties of all kinds, from festivals and craft fairs to one in Alaska that was bear-proofed for my protection. Yep. It had long stainless steel bolts securing the walls and door in the event of attack. In fact, our bus driver advised us to take shelter in the rest rooms should marauding moose, caribou, or grizzly drop by. Or maybe he just wanted us to get back to the bus faster.
I once went to a swanky barbeque (not a cookout, it was too fancy to be a cookout, and the wienies were large and German and stuffed with things like truffles and fancy cheese), where the port-a-potty was a multi-seater with separate stalls, perfumed and air-conditioned ventilation, a warmed-air hand dryer, bouquets of flowers, and a basket of toothbrushes, mouthwash, combs, and hand lotion. It was such a hot and humid day that I would have been content to stay in there all day with a German wienie, but I was still married at the time.
Years ago, people warned American travelers that “foreign” public toilets were nightmares, holes in the floor with coarse toilet paper, but that has not been my experience. On road trips in France, Spain, and Italy, the highways have conventional rest stops with acceptably clean flushing toilets and much better soap than you get in the U.S. Off-road, you may find the hole-in-the-floor, which can be a challenge for the biologically female traveler.
My first experience came in the French Alps on a road trip. Traveling from Switzerland to a remote inn, we stopped at a public park after three hours in a van and a lunch featuring wine—lots and lots of wine. I hurried to the only restroom in the park and opened the door. It was a one-holer. The temperature was in the 40s. I was wearing a pair of tights, long underwear, and leggings. I rushed back to the van.
“That didn’t take long.” The Veterinarian was surprised.
“I didn’t go. I can’t figure out the logistics.”
“I’m wearing the wrong clothes. I can’t get them off, and it’s too cold. How long ‘til we get to the inn?”
“About another hour.”
That was the longest hour of my life—but I made it, and I learned my lesson. No leggings while traveling.
Once, at the Bangkok Airport, there was the usual long line of women, Eastern and Western, snaking into the ladies’ room. I really needed to go before my three-hour flight to Hong Kong.
“Is there a reason no one is using the stall on the end?” I asked the Asian woman ahead of me.
“Yes,” she replied, “it’s only a hole in the floor.”
“May I use it?” The other women in line looked at me in horror. But those women had never passed up a hole-in-the-floor in France. I was wearing a skirt and much relieved (in every way) to go to the head of the line and use it.
Generally, holes-in-the-floor have attendants who clean up between each patron and collect a small tip, so they are sparkling clean. Until the past year or so, the Charlotte Douglas International Airport had attendants in their bathrooms, with mouthwash and hand lotion, like you used to see in fancy restaurants. It always unnerved me to have the uniformed woman showing me to an available stall. As I sat on the toilet, I would rustle in my wallet for something to put in her tip jar. “Is a dollar too much? Is a quarter too little? Who the heck am I that this woman should be cleaning up after me?” But, oh, how I appreciated that someone was cleaning up after my fellow travelers. Now, the CLT airport restrooms are unstaffed, so I have a plea:
Ladies, sit on the seat and clean up after yourself. For those of you who still believe in science, you can’t get “germs” from sitting on the seat. If people are so fussy about their toilet paper at home, why aren’t they concerned about how they leave the stall in a public toilet? To ensure cleanliness, I’m happy to pay to pee.
And while you’re at it, or after you’re at it, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. You’re gonna need to live until 2022 to use up that hoard of toilet paper. Of course, I have my own, so who am I to complain? Soli Deo Gloria!