(For the first bathroom-related post, click the link here.)
Allow me to start of this post with an obvious declaration of how French bathrooms are to the unsuspecting American:
They are weird.
No, seriously. French bathrooms are just weird.
I have been to quite a number of houses in which the bathroom in question will have the toilet built apart from the bathroom itself. In one room, you may have the sink, either a shower or a bathtub with detachable showerhead (more on that later) and, in a state of rarity, the notorious toilet-like bidet. Then, the actual contraption that flushes out natural impurities will be isolated in its own little room.
After having lived in France for a year, the shock of using separate facilities won't even make me bat an eye, but in the very beginning, I could not help but wonder what a strange country I had found myself in.
Seriously, who thought this up? I suppose that if you are living with other people, having the toilet apart from the shower and sink is a rather logical thing, especially in those crucial moments when one person desperately needs to go and simply can't because another person has locked himself to take a bath and thus resorts to doing the universal "I-gotta-pee" jig.
Yet I associate toilets with privacy. Bathrooms are private places. It is only logical to group the toilet with the bidet.
Privacy? In France? Ha, ha! That silly notion goes down the drain! Ever heard of the expression "the walls have ears?" I sincerely think that it originated from the fact that French bathrooms have very, very thin walls that echo every bump, grunt, sigh, smack and groan that are emitted by whoever is in it.
Oh yes. French bathrooms, unlike the well-thought-out, discreet soundproof American ones, are in-your-face. Even to this day, I admit that I feel rather uncomfortable when I hear a questionable noise that passes through the walls to my ears. Do you know how self-conscious I feel when I think about other people who can hear everything that I do when I use French facilities?
Whatever. I'm in France. I should be more open to the fact that the French are not embarrassed by natural bowel movements.
But I can't help it! It's simply not in my American nature.
During one lesson with my French high schoolers, I showed the differences between some British English and American English words. I decided to make the activity a game. I wrote down each word, had the students guess which word pertained to which country and then had them figure out the French equivalent. I inevitably talked about "bathroom" vs. "loo."
Ha, ha. Well, you're wrong, pal.
I then explained how in American English, "bathroom" is euphemism for "toilet."
Let's see. I've covered isolated toilets and thin walls. Now, about those detachable showerheads: how do you expect little ol' clumsy me to deftly maneuver my body in a 2x2 space as I clutch a spouting Niagara Falls in one hand and cup a wad of shampoo in the other? It simply can't be done. I can't take a shower without flooding the entire bathroom floor! I even had the habit of leaving a mop so I could soak up the water splattered all over the ground. I wish I were even kidding about this. I've gotten better with time at containing the water within the shower space. The lake that used to form has now shrunk to a puddle.
Despite all the oddities found in home bathrooms, I still am floored by the (rare) public toilets that one finds over here. I credit the topic of this post to the question an anonymous student asked my French BFF Mimi:
"What is the English for toilettes turques?"
Mimi couldn't give an answer, so she asked me. I couldn't give an answer because toilettes turques are simply non-existent in Miami. In fact, the very first time that I saw a toilettes turques was in 2008, in a small town in France.
I still remember that fateful day. Rather than being greeted by a white, porcelain throne, I unsuspectingly came face-to-face with what can be described as an ingenious invention: ceramic tiles decorating a hole in the ground. Since I hail from a First World country, my initial reaction to seeing such a starkly primitive device in an advanced nation was utter shock and dismay. How was I supposed to pee over this...this...THING? I remember that I my poor bladder was close to bursting and that I had no choice but to figure it out.
That intriguing moment had been safely stored in my recollections until Mimi brought up the question.
I honestly had no idea what the name for it in English is. I even tried to look it up and came across such obvious entries as "hole-in-the-ground toilet."
However, I prefer to christen the toilettes turques with a title they so clearly merit: a WTF toilet. When you see it, you ask "What the Fuck is this?!"
Our conversation about the lack of porcelain throne progressed.
"Do you know what the French for 'Outhouse' is?" Mimi asked. "Une cabane. Literally, a cabin. There is even a song written about this called La Cabane au Fond du Jardin, which means 'the cabin at the end of the garden.'"
What? There is a song written about this? At that point, I couldn't contain myself. I burst into laughter.
"Ah, that's what I love about the French language: it is just so damn poetic! Whereas in English, the word is quite plain: it is an out house. Why is it an outhouse? Because the toilet is at the exterior of the house!"
Mimi and I completely broke down into a fit of uncontrollable whoops.
Barb the French Bean