Where do you sit on public toilets?

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We all prefer our home toilet, don’t we?

When we travel, we miss it as much as our own bed, and indeed, some family members.

It’s comfortable, familiar and even if it’s not hospital-clean, there’s something reassuring about knowing who was there before you. At the very least you can yell at whoever made any splashes and order them to come back and clean them up – something that’s awkward in the workplace.

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‘Away’ toilets (this includes public facilities as well as work loos and bathrooms at other people’s homes) are the great leveler – no one really likes them but we’re dependent on them. Women more so than men.

To many men, the natural world is one giant toilet, especially under cover of darkness. No wonder they enjoy camping so much. In a campground situation, men aren’t reliant on the composting toilet.  Any tree will do. I believe there are two great lies in life – ‘You’ll be able to wear that bridesmaid’s dress to parties.’ And, ‘Composting toilets don’t smell.’ On the last day of a long weekend, they stink.

It’s odd that although we all rely on the away toilet, there’s no set of rules or guidelines for their use. We make up our own, everyone’s is different, but we all believe ours is right and everyone else’s is either gross or excessive.

For example, my neighbour Jenny, is a committed hoverer. Nothing unusual there, many women keep themselves clean and exercise their thighs at the same time by hovering five to ten centimeters above a toilet seat. But Jenny told me she never sits directly on a toilet seat that’s not her own.

‘What about my loo?’ I asked,  ‘Do you hover when you’re at my place?’

‘Abso-bloody-lutely,’ she said, ‘But don’t take it personally. I even hover at mum’s house. I don’t know who was there before me. Tradesmen, her bridge friends, Dad … ’

It seems we all have our toilet quirks. Plenty of people refuse to touch taps, preferring to use elbows, ER style, because the hand that previously touched the tap had just been … well, it could have been anywhere.’

There are even people who would argue that it’s better (for them) not to wash their hands at all because of the germiness of every surface in a public facility.

Then there’s the privacy aspect. A bank of 20 toots at a concert is fine, but it’s very awkward in a small work bathroom when there are only two cubicles and you know the person in the one next to you. Should you chat? If only to cover the toilety sounds? Most girls I know leave if one of two loos is occupied. It’s worth a little discomfort to come back later and wee freely.

Men generally have it easy when it comes to away toilets. But they do have problems when out and about with small daughters. Where is the appropriate place to go when they need to go? The men’s? The ladies? The disabled cubicle? Nothing seems appropriate unless you’re at a shopping centre and they have nice gender neutral facilities.

What about planes? No room for separate facilities in the air. At 30,000 feet, we’re all in it together. My sister Nic thinks this is outrageous and avoids long haul flights because of it. She was deeply scarred on her first flight to London as an eighteen year old when the man in front of her in the loo queue had a copy of the Telegraph tucked under his arm.

I’m okay with sharing with the boys, but can never understand people who go to the toilet on a plane wearing only socks, or even barefoot. Even a man with the keenest of eyes and steadiest of hands can be shaken off balance during unexpected turbulence. There will be splashage.

Then there’s the ‘bush wee’ or the ‘picnic wee’ as some families call it. Personally, I’d prefer to risk a bull ant bit on the bum than use a public toilet in many parks.  Certainly on our recent road trip there were numerous squats behind the station wagon. But for some people this kind of convenience is a mental and physical impossibility. ‘No way,’ says my friend Julia, ‘I need a door, with a lock, or nothing happens. It’s something I inherited that from my mother. That and an iron bladder.’

Where do you sit on the away toilet? Or don’t you sit at all?

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