It happened just last month, in the ladies’ room at SFO: I had no more than sat down on my paper-shielded seat when I heard a waterfall in the adjacent stall. I looked under the partition to see a gusher of urine flowing freely and loudly onto the tile floor. No feet or legs visible. I wasn’t surprised; I had noticed a group of Asian travelers were waiting at a gate adjacent to ours. The woman really had to go, I thought, picturing a little Chinese lady perched atop the seat.
I knew how she must feel, remembering our visit to China five years earlier, when I saw water running out from the stalls, toward the aisle down the middle of a restroom. I watched with interest and wondered where that liquid was coming from, until I realized it was a stream of urine and it was coming from me. I was peeing my heart out, but totally missing the ceramic toilet, which was more than just a hole in the floor but was also much lower than I was squatting. I felt bad about it too, the restroom being labeled a “3-star toilet” and all.
Even before I had ever traveled to places that star-rated their restrooms, I dealt with employees who didn’t know to sit on a Western-style toilet. As Safety Manager at a California pharmaceutical company, I was teamed with a woman from Facilities to handle the complaint that toilets in Building M1 were being broken, plus a related complaint that the seats often had treadmarks on them. This particular lab building had toilets that jutted out from the wall rather than resting on the floor, so weight concentrated at the very front caused them to crack off. And this lab building also happened to include a good number of Chinese chemists on temporary work visas. Without showing discrimination or condescension, we were to explain the etiquette of using Western toilets. Our lesson focused on keeping the seats clean and dry to avoid contamination. I think we succeeded. Maybe. Most likely one of their own tutored the newcomers or showed them the Western way of toiletry. Too bad we didn’t know we could order an explanatory poster from Japan, home of the cleanest toilets in the world and host to many non-Japanese Asian tourists.
Personally I like to have a paper shield and sit down on the seat, even though most times when traveling, I do appreciate all the squats and wall sits that I’ve done at the gym. This time at SFO, I was lucky to get my job done fast enough to exit the stall with dry feet.
(Dates of travel: China – March 2009; Japan – April 2016)