December 06, 2007

Oh Goody, Public Toilets!

[Written by Crabby, with help from The Bag Lady and Cara].

Does anyone really like using public restrooms?

Except for certain closeted male politicians, most of us generally prefer the facilities in our own homes to those used by others. But as a practical matter, that's not always an option. If we want to leave our humble homes for hours at a time, we must learn to share with strangers.

Of course the hygiene horrors of public toilets may be somewhat exaggerated in our imaginations. There are articles written all the time about how toilet seats are actually less germ-ridden than, say, steering wheels or cell phones or drinking fountains. (This may seem reassuring, or it may keep you from ever wanting to drive, talk on the phone, or drink water ever again.)

Anyway, here to help Crabby whine about Public Restrooms are two brave bloggers who are not afraid to discuss their reflections on these very private matters. And Crabby, who loves to complain just on principle, has some Restroom-Related Ranting of her own to add.

And if you're reading this over a meal? So sorry! You may want to put that meatball sandwich down for a moment. Or perhaps find a nicer blog than this one. Or check out the sidebar, where there are plenty of posts about health and fitness with no toilets in them at all.

So--what's there to dislike about public restrooms?


The Bag Lady does not approve of germs:

One of the Bag Lady’s worst germ phobias involves public toilets. She hates public toilets. She has determined where the best facilities are, and will make her way to those particular stores when the need arises. These are the places where the toilets are actually somewhat cared for. They are also the ones that use paper towels.

Paper towels are indispensable in the Bag Lady’s routine. She can’t exit the public washroom without them! In the rare instances where she has had to use a public washroom where there are none (either they have one of those germ-infested round cloth towel dispensers, or one of those ridiculous time-wasting hot-air blowers), she has been known to stand just inside the door, waiting for someone else to enter so she can leave without touching the door handle.

She also remembers her mother’s admonishments to never, ever sit on a public toilet seat. This was all fine and good when the Bag Lady was young and in good shape. She could hover with the best of them. Now that she is a little older (and much odder), and has a bad hip, the hovering is still within her ability, but she has a little difficulty with height. And the length of time she can hover is not what it used to be. Her hip starts to ache, and she sometimes lets out an involuntary moan. This causes her to wonder what the lady in the next stall might be thinking. She lives in dread of the day she loses her balance and her butt actually touches the toilet seat.

Once she has finished, she then faces the dilemma of how to flush the toilet without actually touching the handle! In some cases, she solves this with a couple squares of toilet paper, but sometimes she is forced to use her foot. Then, of course, she has to get out of the stall. Most public washroom stalls are so tiny, one needs to straddle the now flushing toilet, which is, of course, spewing germs and water all over the stall, and the Bag Lady is in fear that the damned thing is going to run over, flooding the entire place before she can escape!

Yikes! Thanks for sharing, Bag Lady!

And so what else do we hate about Public Toilets?

Lack of Privacy!

There are rules for visiting Public Facilities, and we're not just talking about waiting your turn, closing the stall door, and washing your hands afterwards. Some are unwritten rules. Cara, who blogs over at Cheaper Than Therapy, tells an amusing story of an unfortunate bathroom situation. The full post is here, but Cara kindly allowed Crabby to steal a couple paragraphs for use at Cranky Fitness, classy blog that it is.

As Cara explains:

Recently, I found myself involved, albeit silently, in a very odd bathroom situation, and it occurred to me that there are apparently some women out there who are unaware of the rules. So, I am here to offer some friendly advice. If there is a woman in the stall next to you waiting quietly for you to leave, then that is exactly what you should do. Leave her alone in peace. One day, it will be you in there, begging with tacit hand gestures and desperate foot stomps for someone else to do the same. It is all about karma.


I absolutely hate doing a number two in public. I have driven home from the mall, and from Target, and from friends' houses with my insides in knots, just to avoid the horror of doing what I consider to be world's most private deed in public. My friend at the office and I have even coined it a "Number 9" referring to the un-leased floor in our old building where it could be done confidentially. Consequently, we have openly lamented the fact that there is no suitable 9th floor-like replacement bathroom in our new building, although the Number 9 moniker stuck.

Thanks to Cara, Crabby will now forever think of this unfortunately timed phenomenon as the need "to do a Number 9." Check out Cara's blog to read the full post.

And what does Crabby dislike most about Public Toilets?

The Mess!

It's amazing isn't it? You go to restroom, sometimes even in the fanciest of places, but when people get in the privacy of their own stalls? Some of them are pigs!

[Actually, Crabby does not know if Men are Pigs, as this is more accurately a Women's Public Restroom post].

Anyway, you know what I'm talking about.

Some people don't flush.

They throw stuff on the ground.

And who hasn't figured out by now that you can't flush paper towels down a toilet without backing it up? Why would you even try when there are trash cans provided?

All these annoyances pale, however, besides the ultimate horror: finding pee all over the seats.

Believe it or not, not all people are lifelong Hoverers like the Bag Lady. Crabby was not admonished as a youngster never to sit on the seat, and has never felt comfortable trying to perch over it. She uses rigorous hand-washing and denial as additional defenses against toilet seat germs. (Yes, she knows washing her hands won't disinfect her thighs, but it all seems related somehow). She only hovers when absolutely necessary. Instead, she generally sits. This means she must ensure that what she sits upon is not befouled, and must make do with toilet paper and those flimsy paper covers to render the seat usable.

This was easier back in the days when more people also sat. (Surely there must be others like her, or else why would they ever even have bothered trying to supply seat covers?)

But, now, it seems many more mothers are telling their children never to sit on toilet seats, because it seems the ranks of the Hoverers has grown. Perhaps Crabby will have to join them one day. But there is a right way and a wrong way to hover, and the new generation of Hoverers needs to know this: You Aren't Supposed to Tinkle All over the Seats and Just Walk Out and Leave it There for Someone Else to Clean Up.

If you can't hover without sprinkling on the seat, for goodness sake, lift it up!

Thank you.

[Note: The Bag Lady has assured us that she is the Good kind of hoverer, not the Evil kind].

So has Crabby just publicly humiliated herself by admitting she is the last female on earth left who still sits down on toilet seats? And do any of you have other complaints or observations about public toilets?


  1. LOL - what a topic.

    I don't know why people leave their manners and common sense at the door of public bathrooms. I've been in some that have been so disgusting that they made me ill. I cannot understand it at all.

    Not to mention, the line ups for the women's bathroom is always much longer than for the men's bathroom.

  2. I just wrote a long diatribe and Blogger ate it...*sigh*. To recap:
    Mainly, my peeve about public loos is the hoverers who don't know how to hover. Ladies - Nothing is more yucky to me than searching for a non-peed on toilet. If you don't want to touch the seat, think how I feel after you've dribbled on it ! :) If you do that, I figure you should have to just wait till you're home to go...even tho I have all my shots from working with human samples at my job, I don't want to encounter them without my lab kit on!
    I grew up with summers at a cabin with an outhouse, so public toilets seems like no big deal to me. All I really care about is that there is soap and towels...washing and drying your hands is so very necessary to me - years of labwork can't be erased. And honestly, I can tell you it's pretty rare to catch something from a toilet seat...public phones are WAY more bacteria filled.
    I'm always curious to watch if people actually wash their hands or not. It's odd who does and doesn't...
    I love the new loos in airports and malls wher eyou don't have to touch the taps and fluchers or doorknobs for them to work. WAY more sanitary. And most people's home washrooms are not as well cleaned or maintained than public ones...but I suppose germophobes will be a bit more fastidious!
    I do feel bad for men tho...when we were on holidays in Europe, I heard stories about pee waterfall walls from my husband. And when a friend was in China she told me horror stories of the public hole in the floor toilets with no TP there...squeegee attendants and all. YUCK.
    It made me appreciate the ones here...and go home and clean my own!

  3. I like those automated motion-detector faucets and towel dispensers, but they have a drawback. I got so used to the automated faucets at my old work that when I came to the new office I stood there waving my hands around under the regular faucet waiting for the water to come on. People give you Strange Looks when you do that.

    This is a bold topic, Crabby. I'm impressed with you, Bag Lady, and Cara for boldly ... um, okay, I'll say it... boldly going where no one* has gone before...

    *Well, not too many people, that is. Off to read Cara's blog now :)

  4. Marijke, oh God, the lines. You'd think engineers would learn by now that women take longer and need more stalls.

    Geosomin, blogger's been doing that a lot lately, I wonder what's up with that! Great to hear from a scientist on this subject. And I agree, nothing makes you appreciate our facilities more than traveling to poorer countries.

    Mary, that hilarious!

  5. I will seat myself on a public toilet after I've wiped it clean.
    To get out the main door after washing my hands I will take a paper towel or cover my hand with my coat or available article of clothing. Touching them after washing is icky.
    I'm only a squatter in campground outhouses, and usually only in winter. That is a matter of survival as they are very, very cold.

    I have a Freshette, a lovely little device that lets women pee standing up. It takes some getting used to, but I have tried it out and found it kind of fun.
    This is not an advertisement for Freshette.

  6. Okay, the Bag Lady will confess - she lifts the toilet seat so she doesn't make a mess! She, too, loves those motion sensor bathrooms, except that the paper towel dispensers are designed to dispense exactly one inch of paper towel, then refuse to work again, no matter how frantically you wave at the F**king thing!
    And, geosomin, she is a fanatic about keeping her bathroom clean...years of working in a dental office, where everything had to be disinfected constantly!
    One of her duties was cleaning the public bathroom...somedays, she longed for a HazMat suit...

  7. At my last job there were some squatters that stood on the toilet seat and pee. So there was pee and footprints (muddy sometimes!). I'm sure it was a cultural thing, but still... ew!

  8. leah, being a fan of camping and hiking and also a person who doesn't have a large bladder, I've always been curious about those things for outdoor use. But can you trust they won't leak? I worry about making a far bigger mess than the usual peeing on my shoes.

    Bag lady, I have the same gripe about the stingy amount of paper towels they spit out!

    And Akimbo, welcome! And oh my goodness, really, they stand on the seats? I guess it makes sense if you come from somewhere with squat toilets, but that pretty much renders the toilets unusuable for subsequent nonsquatters, no? Yuck!

  9. I empathize with Cara. I am a waiter too and I hate it when others can't take the hint to just vacate the premise. Twits.

    I used to hover over public toilets, but then I traveled to some interesting locales where normal toilets weren't de rigueur. Especially those with the whole Turkish toilet phenomena.

    I went to Zimbabwe many years ago and for three weeks straight I had to do my business in an out building which just consisted of some flimsy walls and a hole in the ground. Hovering while doing 'Number 9' was not easy--especially in the middle of the night.

  10. Unfortunately, my office was subjected to something worse than the ultimate horror: finding pee all over the seats.

    I don't want to gross everyone out but there was a sick and twisted woman who worked in my office who had some sort of feces fetish and actually finger-painted with it all over the bathroom stalls (toilet, walls, floor, etc.). It was absolutely disgusting. I was horrified that someone working in an professional setting could do something like that and scared to think what else they were capable of doing.

    The office had to hire a professional cleaning crew to come in and disinfect every piece of equipment, filing cabinet, telephone, fax machine, copier, and obviously the bathroom facilities, etc.

    I was so tramatized by it - I can't even use three out of the six stalls because I can't help seeing her disgusting "art work" everytime I go in there.

    I was so hysterical after the last most disgusting episode (before they finally let her go), one of the bosses tried to calm me down by saying that it is nothing compared to what you see in prison. I sobbed back at him that "I don't work at a prison - I work in a professional office."

    UGGHHH! What is wrong with people?

    Yes, pee on the seat is gross but hopefully none of you will ever experience the horrors of the feces artist.

    Ok, where is the disinfectant?

  11. Christina, thanks for the tip--perhaps I'll wait awhile before heading out to Zimbabwe for an extended stay.

    And MB--I totally take back the word "ultimate"--your story makes mere pee on the seat seem almost trivial.

  12. I recently traveled overseas for the first time. In Italy, most of the bathrooms were of the normal "American" variety, however, we were in a gorgeous little wine bar right on the sea and I had to go. (Just regular, not number 9 :)) The toilet in this particular place looked to me to be a shower stall minus the glass enclosure, basically just a tiled hole in the ground. I had no idea what to do. I had to go back out and ask my friends. I don't want to seem ethno-centric here, but I think American's have figured the whole toilet thing out. Not as well as the Japanese maybe, but still, enough so that there are actual fixtures. :)

    I am FLOORED by the "artist"

  13. This was too funny! I concur with everything. I have a horrible public bathroom phobia and am a hoverer--a kind hoverer tho, I promise! We have one bathroom in my office that has to be shared with about 10 people and we are actually all very courteous--the worst part is the walls are paper thin. You can hear (and smell) EVERYTHING. And there is no place for a Number 9. If I have to do anything I turn on the water, some people do not however and it is VERY distracting.

  14. Okay, mb - you win.
    Many years ago, the Bag Lady worked in an institution for the mentally handicapped (or challenged, or whatever the hell the PC term is nowadays!) and some of the clients did things like that. But, after all, that was part of the reason they were in the instituion to begin with. In a professional setting? Eeuuww...
    Oh, and thanks for sharing - the Bag Lady has to disinfect her computer screen now...

  15. My pet peeve doesn't seem nearly as bad now that I've read about the feces artwork, but I'll share anyway. There are certain public restrooms I hate because the automatic-flushing toilets always flush while I'm still going! That whoosh of air is very unsettling, and then I have to manually flush anyways when I'm done.

  16. Potty humour... gotta love it! :)

    This video just about sums it up for me.

    Enjoy. :)

  17. Cara--I ran into one of those too, in France. But not being a natural hoverer, I actually found it less strain on the legs than trying to hover over a tall toilet seat. However, attention to pants placement is crucial! I still prefer to sit, preferably on a nice clean seat with covered by a thin tissue protector which may be useless, but is psychologically reassuring.

    Jen, ugh. Sound privacy is every bit as important as visual privacy, especially at work when you have to see these people again!

    Bag Lady, I'm with you--hand me the disinfectant.

    Maggie, for some reason, I'm always setting those off. Sometimes they even spray you a little which is most disconcerting!

    Hilary--thanks for the link! Ellen is one of my heroes.

  18. Crabby -- this is completely off topic, but where do you find the cool pictures you use to jazz up your already jazzy posts? I'm lookin' to spruce up my dull dull dull weblog. Any info so appreciated!!! I'm, should you want to email any info. With appreciation...

  19. MB: "I was so hysterical after the last most disgusting episode (before they finally let her go)"

    You mean to tell me it happened more than once before they canned her?! You'd think if anything that would be a zero-tolerance offense! I know it would if I were running things! O.o

    re: hovering: If the seat is clean, I sit on it. If it's not, I look for another toilet. If I get anything on the seat, I clean it up, damnit!

  20. I tried to be a hoverer, being sister to the bag lady, I too was told to never sit. Then one day my legs just gave out. I didn't die within days, so figured what Mom didn't know wouldn't hurt me.

    I have never understood the public mind. People will do things in public that they would never do at home - throw things on the ground, spit, not flush, flush paper towel - the list goes on.If you wouldn't do it at home, why do you think you can do it in public?

  21. mb. I am forever traumatized...

    I was laughing all the way through Cara's post.

    I've used the men's room more than once when the women's one was...substandard.

    I have a cousin (little one) who has a debilitating fear of public restrooms. Not the most convenient situation and at times very frustrating for her parents, but maybe not the worst fear to have.

  22. I rarely come across superlatively nasty restrooms, but there was one in New Mexico that was feces-decorated and full of flies! Turned my stomach! Luckily we were on a lightly traveled mountain highway and I was able to take care of my needs in a ditch.

    What grosses me out every time, though, are portable toilets. Ewwww!!! I will aggressively seek almost any alternative, before I'll use one of those disgusting things!

  23. Oh yeah, there were multiple incidents. The woman in the office complained for months about the pee and dirty conditions but nothing was done about it until it looked like the cat used the stall as a litter box. At that point we all started really freaking out and complaining to the manager insisting they do something.

    Oh, and they didn’t fire her for the ladies room violations but for poor work performance. I feel so sorry for the next office that has to deal with the “Artist.”

    My manager hasn’t spoken to me since this whole incident (back in May) because I went nutty on him and told him he had to do something about it and not stick his head in the sand and pretend nothing was wrong and hope it would go away.

    Ok, I have to purge the thoughts out of my head all over again. Where is the LYSOL?

  24. Thanks, Katie! I am honored to be linked on such a Crab-u-lous Blog!! Thanks, Crabby!

  25. Oh, yes. Thanks for reminding me of the steering wheel germs.

    I always use Purrell after pumping gas, but I'm just messing up my hands again the moment I touch the steering wheel!

  26. You need to try public bathrooms in the Middle East or India. In some places there's no toilet, but a hole in the ground with two foot pads. Prepare to strengthen your leg muscles..................:)

  27. Just to change the subject ... a good thing ... Crabby, for your time in San Fran, consider using an image of a nice Dungeness Crab, the lobster of the West Coast!!!

    Now, there's a crab!!!!

  28. I sit on public seats purely for the reason that i'm afraid i'll sprinkle on the seat! i figure, i'll wash my hands, and then when i get home i'll take a shower. but i completely agree with you about having to clean up someone else's mess! if at all possible i won't even use the stall if there's a mess on the seat. i'll find another one. as far as opening the stall, i figure my hands are already dirty, so it doens't matter. my purse hangs on the hook, and if there isn't one, i cringe as i set it on the floor. the best option for me is setting my purse on the counter before i enter the stall, but this can only be done at work. and when i open the door to leave the bathroom, i just use denial. glad to know i'm not the only "waiter" though. that's a comfort.

  29. Thanks for braving the Tacky Topic Leslie, ChickenGirl, Reb, Katieo, Bunnygirl, MB, Cara, Decaf, iaadmin, Rabbtt's Guy & Laura, and for leaving great comments!

  30. I never mastered the hover and no longer even try.

    I have bladder issues, so I usually find all the bathrooms in the area. I can say, when on the road, look for a BP gas station. They almost always have bathrooms, and are kept reasonably clean.

    I can't stand it when I find pee on the seat. I've been known to dribble getting up (no paper is just gross!), but always wipe it off! And flushing....really ladies, is it that hard to remember? You pee, you poop, you flush!

    A new modern-day peeve....people that talk on the phone in the ladies room! I'm mean phones in the ladies room please!

    I've seen some really disgusting bathrooms! I don't have a choice but use what I find, so I just do what I have to do!


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