Tuesday, December 13, 2011

La Toilette

The subject for today is toilets.  There will be no photos.


I am a bit confused (but certainly have been and shall continue to be accepting - given no choice, there is truly no need for discussion on the subject, but it is curious to this American).  Here are the, I believe, contradictory facts.  But perhaps they're not, and I just don't have the full cultural history to understand completely.

1.   Even the smallest apartment (like mine in Paris, for example), if it has its own bathroom facilities, separates the "loo" from the bathing/sink area.  Yes, of course in the U.S., in fancier hotel chains such as Four Seasons, and in some upscale private residences, there may be a door that separates the toilet from the rest of the bathroom, but that isn't what I mean.  In Paris homes, the toilet is a separate room, distant from the bathing area, and most often even without a sink to wash hands afterward.  I've had to seek out a nearby kitchen for an available sink on several occasions.  I find this inconvenient for all (and perhaps even discourages contemporary hygienic practice).  After getting past the lack-of-sink-near-the-toilet issue, I began to think how "civilized" it is, to remove toilets from the rest of the house, just to stick it in its own "closet," basically.  How private, how refined, how solo this practice is.

BUT - 

2.  Many cafés, schools, museums and other public spaces do not divide the bathroom facilities by gender.  La toilette, c'est pour tout!  The stalls may be individual (though I've sometimes found unenclosed urinals in the same environment but luckily have not found them in use), but the door to the general environment of the stalls and sinks is used by all...or there may not even be a door - just a tiny winding spiral staircase at the bottom of which are one or two sinks and one or two doors behind each of which is a toilet.

Is this really a major culture discovery?  No.  But is it a bit contradictory?  Perhaps, but maybe just to us puritanical Americans.  Here goes - there is no need to divide the sexes in this basic human function (this is a country that bares the female breast in the media and on beaches with ease); let them all use the same bathroom.  It saves all kinds of resources and space.  And, as for the function itself, in the home, put it as far from the other aesthetic niceties as possible, as there's nothing aesthetic about it - a simple toilet in a tiny empty closet to be segregated from the rest of the home.

And there's France in a nutshell.  Aesthetics rule.  Gender privacy, not so much.

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