Thursday, September 26, 2013

And now for something completely different

I love British bathrooms.

There, I said it and I’m glad.

Before I explain why British bathrooms are superior to those in the US, let me first do some level setting.

I’m not a rabid anglophile. I do appreciate much of the history, though only from a military perspective. I like Dr. Who but I’m not a rabid fan. I love Sherlock Holmes. That’s it, no qualification around that, I love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collective works and don’t care who knows it. So while I do appreciate some things British, I never had an overwhelming desire to travel there any more than anywhere else with the exception of Africa. Sorry Africa, but while you have a lot going for you, if I wanted to be hacked to death or burnt alive, I’d insource that job domestically and go to Detroit.

To be fair, as a child it never occurred to me that travel was even in the cards for me beyond the occasional trip to Wisconsin and the dream of some day seeing the Twin Cities. I dreamt of being Spiderman, knowing it was a dream. The cruel truth of economics and logistics prohibited me from dreaming of things I thought were firmly out of my reach. So England became no different than Narnia. Places I read about, but as far as I was concerned, I had a better chance of finding a portal in a wardrobe.

Then I grew up and achieved more than I thought possible. I dared to dream of cruises and foreign travel. England, Scotland and Ireland were at the tope of my list. So my company sent me to India in 2006. What I found is that except for the jetlag, I liked it. Two jobs and a bunch of travel later, I finally arrived in the UK for the first time.

This is my third trip and all have been for business. I haven’t been able to do many tourist activities, but I have seen a few sites. I did get to see the relatively new 221 B Baker street museum and gift shop. I did get to see Big Ben from a taxi window. Those were cool, I won’t lie, but they pale in comparison to my greatest UK discovery, the British bathroom.

For those of you that have never traveled between these two countries, let me explain. The entire bathroom isn’t necessarily superior, though most have a better design. The key feature that makes them superior are commode the stalls. Urinals are about the same, though the Brits do seem to space them out a bit more and have better dividers. I’ve also never seen a sink design in the UK with a flat counter top and over pressured faucets that cause water to pool so that when you lean forward to wash your hands or check something in the mirror, the water absorbs into you pants in the groin region.

While not all British bathrooms are so well equipped, I have to share this pic of a this brilliant vending machine that takes care of all of the man's and woman's needs and manages to address some of the most common excuses as well.

If only they had these a century before, though I'd rather not meet the man or woman that needs the giants 100 pack of tic tacs.

And now back to my story.

First I’ll describe the British stall. Have you ever heard the term “water closet”? Well, that is appropriate, because each stall is a small room with a solid door and no gaps or cracks. It shuts and you have true privacy. I’ve been in a few now and they don’t skimp on wall thickness either. The guy next to me could be suffering from a trip to Chipotle, but I would not hear his screams. Added bonus feature in case you’re not sure of the door is shut by accident, most have a lock on the inside that triggers an “Occupied” sign on the outer door similar but not quite like they have on airplane bathrooms.

The US stalls on the other hand are poorly crafted from sheet metal and painted horrific colors. They are designed poorly and quickly thrown up so most have larger than planned gaps and are about 18 inches off the floor and top off around six feet high, leaving plenty of gap before you reach the ceiling. Because of poor alignment, many of the flimsy slide locks do not fully seat and a large percentage open when any of the connected walls are bumped.  Worse, since almost all of them shut as their default position, you have no way of knowing if they are occupied by looking at the door. There are several slick moves used by men across America so we aren’t mistaken for some pervert trying to catch a look. There’s the quick duck down to look for feet, but this move is rarely done when someone is at the sink or at a urinal. You can walk by as if uninterested and glance quickly through the ½ inch wide crack to see if there is a shape in the gloom. A more patient person can hang back by the door and listen for movement or breathing, but if detected that might only narrow it down to one of the two being occupied, not definitively identify which one.

Desperate or impatient men just grab hold of the door and pull. This only works if it is empty. If not and the lock miraculously holds, most occupants feel the need to say something like. “I’m in here” or “be done in a minute”, as if the locked door weren’t a giveaway. Sometimes the door gives and you’re face to face with someone in one of several stages of completion.

You may argue that the British method is more expensive, but I challenge that assumption. Post construction work would be, but if it were part of the plan, the increase per building would be negligible. We broke away for many reasons over two hundred years ago, but we have bonded since then and it’s high time we recognize we can still learn from our brothers and sisters across the sea. I call on all of my fellow American’s to rise up with me and demand a better bathroom experience.

Who’s with me?

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