You know how it goes. You’re at the cinema/theatre/nightclub, need the loo and arrive only to find a queue snaking out of the door.
As you hop up and down, you notice the men’s toilet has no such thing. So what exactly are we doing in there?
Many years ago I spent ages waiting in the line outside the toilets in a nightclub. Finally I reached the front only to find nearly all the cubicles empty… confused, I looked round and realised that I had been waiting to use the mirrors. All around me girls were busy with reapplying make up and hairspray to dent a large hole in the ozone layer (it was several years later the ozone hole made the news… that experience partly confirmed why!)
I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours of my life I’ve stood waiting in queues to use the toilet. I have a fairly weak bladder so I’m often on the lookout for a public toilet wherever I go.
I’ve shared a toilet with a very large spider in Borneo, enjoyed the best view of Table Mountain in Cape Town from a youth hostel bathroom, been squashed against a toilet door by well-meaning Chinese women in Tian, and in a remote part of Cambodia found the only toilet locked!
Then there are the chemical toilets found at festivals and outdoor events, where my skills of balance and contortion come in handy as I try not to touch anything and hover over the pan while holding tightly on to my belongings. Luckily I never faced the choice my mum has when she dropped her camera in a drop shot toilet in Ethiopia.
In the main, we tend to queue politely for the toilet, taking it in turns. Conversation is minimal apart from a polite word that the toilet is free and the odd huff and puff as we wait impatiently as the women in front is taking too long. There’s also the usual etiquette of apologising to the next woman when the toilet doesn’t flush or the door doesn’t lock.
Then there’s the toilet paper
When you’re sitting on the toilet and notice there’s no paper you say to the next person “is there any paper in there?”, expecting the reply “yes” and a hand thrust under the partition with a wad of paper.
But I once got the reply of “yes, plenty thanks” then heard the toilet flush and the patter of feet as she walked out. So much for female solidarity!
I wonder if because women spend so much time queuing we feel that we should make the most the time when we finally reach the cubicle. We’ve earned it. Even though they are often too narrow, too short, and designed so you end up sitting on the overflowing sanitary bin on occasions…
So what is going on behind that door?
I must admit that I have on occasion used the time to contemplate, have time out from a difficult meeting or collect my thoughts and compose myself.
I’ve also used the time in the toilet to have a cry, change my clothes, listen to an interesting conversation, revise for a test, send a text, check emails, chat with a friend, and just be alone.
What I haven’t done (although I have seen or heard the evidence) is write my name on the wall, eat my dinner, drink my coffee, make a phone call, cut my toenails, paint my nails, try on a new dress, fill out a form, write a birthday card, learn my lines, hide from someone, practice an instrument, check my bank balance, watch a video or peel vegetables! (To be fair peeling vegetables wasn’t in the cubicle – but just outside by the ‘concierge’ for some toilets in Bolivia).
I imagine for some women the trip to the public toilet is a chance to escape, to take a breather, to rest. We know that someone is outside waiting but we want to make the most of our time.
So next time you are waiting in the queue, take a moment to remember the time you spent a little longer in the loo and try to be patient.