Societal Terms For The Bathroom
The Special Room
Stories About The Little Room
My father referred to it as the reading room. He took a newspaper with him and stayed till he finished reading, or so I thought. One day, visiting a friend, I heard my friend's father say he needed to go visit Aunt Maggie. When dinner time came I wondered if Aunt Maggie was going to join us. That's when everyone laughed. Aunt Maggie was their term for the "reading room." That day I discovered that lots of people have different names for this essential room. I will share a few of these stories here.
Visit to France
While in France, I felt overwhelmed and a little lost. Everything was different/foreign. One day we happened upon a restaurant where we were greeted at the front desk in English. I remember thinking "wonderful, I can ask for the bathroom instead of searching aimlessly." So during the dinner, I excused myself and walked up to the Maitre d and asked where the bathroom was. The woman looked at me astonished and asked, "You want to take a BATH?" No, of course, I didn't want to take a bath in the middle of my dinner. But at that point, I wasn't sure what to call the bathroom. All the American names that I had ever used seemed inappropriate so I just stood there paralyzed. Finally, a French man who had been listening leaned over and whispered something French to the woman. However, I recognized one word, "toilet". With relief, I said that was it and she pointed the way. I felt very stupid. Imagine the woman who understood English not understanding the word "bathroom". So in Europe, English isn't the same and American English. Words to the wise.
WC in Germany
Driving through Europe, we naturally drove through Germany from France. Again the landscape changed drastically. The buildings are different and so is the bathroom. We stopped at several interesting spots but I simply couldn't find a bathroom anywhere. I began to despair that they may not have public restrooms. It took some time but we finally did find a woman who spoke broken English. She pointed to a large sign near the ceiling. It simply had a WC with a white circle around it and an arrow. What, in heaven's name, does WC stand for, I wondered. Then it struck me, water closet. Oh, well okay. I could get used to that. They were clean and clearly marked if only you know the code.
Spain in the late '70s was a completely different story. There didn't seem to be any public rest rooms to be found. Unfortunately, I refused to go "local" and squat beside the side of the road and I saw many of the locals doing. To make matters worse, I was pregnant at the time and really had to go more often than usual. We ended up discovering that there are places if you know where to go. Most bars have a baño (spelled with the Spanish n-yea). Most of those were not nice looking or smelling. You really have to be having an emergency to brave one of those. Also in Madrid, there were open "man-holes" near the street, in the sidewalk, with a short barrier for "modesty" that I saw many men using. I refused!
Dad and My Neice
Dad, the Plumber
Interestingly enough, my dad was a plumber and electrician for many years. Some days he would come home smelling of some septic tank he had been working in to free the lines. He loved to grab me and to rub his grimy face against my glasses in greeting, knowing I hated to clean those glasses. He would not fix our toilet if it became clogged. He would pull all us girls into the little room and announce, "You girls are going to learn how to do this for yourselves." It was his way of getting to relax when he got home. We all knew how to snake a line and fix an internal float. I have to say I am eternally grateful to him for that because I know when it is really time to call a plumber and when it is something I can tweak or fix myself.
Dad worked very hard for a living to raise us. He would say that we were all going to college so we didn't have to work in excrement as he did. Funny thing is, my sister got a degree in Microbiology and then got a job for the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Her job was to get samples of the excrement in the holding ponds to make sure the bacteria was doing its job. So she got a degree but worked in excrement anyway. Not that's irony.
Whenever my sister would come back from the restroom, striking a pose, she would announce to the room that she was refreshed and renewed. It always struck me as funny because basically she wasn't either refreshed or renewed. She was relieved.
BathroomClick thumbnail to view full-size
What's It Called?
I have heard so many names for the restroom. It is a bathroom in America usually we have a bathtub in there, but not always. It is a water closet in Germany. It is a loo in Australia and some parts of England. In France, it is a toilette (good to know if you are traveling). In Spain and Mexico, it is a baño (pronounced ban-yo). People in the military call it a latrine or the head. Dad called it a reading room (very descriptive). Some call it a restroom (where you rest?). I can be called the facilities, the little room, the powder room (where you powder... some part of you?). So what is it called where you live?
I will never forget the first time I heard a bathroom joke on TV. It was All In The Family, and for the first time ever on national TV, you heard a flush sound just before one of the actors entered the room. It was iconic. Never done before. My dad, the plumber howled with laughter. One joke in particular involved Archie referring to a guest in his bathroom "the royal flush". Dad explained that not only was it a card hand and a noise from the commode, but also it was a brand name for the porcelain fixture. Only a plumber would get that joke.
I loved Bill Cosby's "Himself" comedy routine where he imitates a drunk person putting his face in a place that was not made for his face. And the reference to the bowl being cool on the side just so the drunk person would feel better. Genius.
When we were in France I noticed the bathroom did not have a bath or even a shower (probably why they refuse to call it a bathroom). There were the requisite commode and a sink, but also a piece of hardware I had never seen before in my 21 years. It was shaped somewhat like a baby bath, lower than a sink and had hot and cold faucets. I made the comment that it would be perfect for bathing the baby, when my husband, rather loudly, demanded I promise NEVER to put our baby in that THING. That was my first clue. I wanted to know what it was, but no one would tell me, as if saying if I didn't know then they weren't going to let me in on the secret. I pondered that piece of porcelain for some time before I got a clue as to its use. Only in France!
While camping, my dad loved to take us places where it was total wilderness. The only way to go "to the bathroom" was the way the bears do it... in the woods. That's all fine and good for the boys but we girls took issue. I mean squatting behind a tree with your pants around your ankles is not a very pleasant position. So my dad invented the Kybo. It consisted of nothing more than an old folding chair with no seat and a spare toilet seat rim. We would set up camp and some 20 yards away dad would find an outcropping of rocks or trees for concealment and dig a hole to set up the Kybo. We got to where we would talk to the Kybo because there was no door. "I'm going to the Kybo... hope it is free...." If the Kybo didn't answer it meant that it was unoccupied. This was a very happy alternative to going back to nature until we told scary stories. But that is a different story.
Remember when your mother used to say, “put on clean underwear in case you GET into an accident?” As I get older, now I carry clean underwear in case I HAVE an accident.
A Newborn Baby
Newborn Baby Joke
The elderly man shuffles up to his friend and says, “Slim,” he says, “I’m 86 years old today and I got to tell ya, I have aches and pains in every part of my body. And you must be about the same age as me, Slim. I never hear you complain. Aren’t you hurtin’ any?”
Slim says, “Well, I’ll tell ya, I fell like a newborn baby.”
“Really, Slim? A newborn baby!”
“Yep. I’m bald, got no teeth, and I think I just wet my pants.”
What did you call the bathroom when you were growing up? - So many names refer to this little room.
What is the way you announced the need?
Things You Should Never Do
Never swear you would eat ANYTHING covered with chocolate while entertaining a practical joker. My sister used to say that she would eat ANYTHING covered with chocolate because chocolate can only make things better. My aunt, a practical joker at heart, asked if that included a dog turd. My sister laughed and said it did. On her next birthday, my aunt presented her with a pie topped with... you guessed it... something remarkably dog turd like covered with chocolate. Fortunately, my aunt was not a sadist and used a Baby Ruth bar that had been warmed in a microwave for a few seconds and stretched and pulled to resemble a dog dropping. Funny or just mean? Depends on which side of the receiving you are.
Never watch scary movies past midnight while babysitting way out in the country with no neighbors for miles around, and the wind howling, tree branches scratching the windows and walls, and you have to use the bathroom... agony. I was only 13 but learned my lesson fast. Too afraid to walk down the dark hall to the bathroom, I suffered for hours till the parents came home and I felt safe enough to use the facilities.