In the same manner a dowser has an innate ability to locate water, I can always find a public restroom. Which is good because wherever I go, I end up needing one. In case you’re thinking this is a middle-aged issue, it’s not. In my case, it’s more like a lifelong issue, although middle-age has given me more reasons to test my “search” skills.
During our travels in Italy a few years ago, my poor husband was amped out on caffeine because of my tenacious tinkle needs. “Bars” in Italy (where you can find coffee and sweet treats) usually have a bathroom, easily accessed if you order something. He’d order an espresso shot and I’d be at his side doing the “potty dance” and asking “Dov’è il bagno?” The server would point and I’d quickly scamper in that direction, all while Bill downed another caffeine-filled blast.
This restroom hunting has made me a bit of an unofficial authority on bathrooms across the globe and what I’ve learned is that it isn’t always clear which door a person should go through once the bathrooms are located. This “problem” isn’t restricted only to other countries, because it has happened to me in the US, too. And—for the record—about 90 percent of the time, it is clear to me. Yet there have been some memorable moments when they weren’t.
Like the time I vacationed in Germany and found myself facing two doors marked “Herren” and “Damen.” The second seemed a close match for the English slang “dame” but the other word DID NOT sound like anything masculine. I reached out to pull open the “Damen” handle when the door swung open and a man rushed out.
I reconsidered “Herren” but before I could even budge, a woman then exited the door marked “Damen.” Thoroughly confused, I listened to their nervous chatter just outside the marked doors. No, I don’t speak German, but through pantomime and expression I soon realized a woman was sick to her stomach behind the “Damen” door and the other two people were helping her. Note to restaurant: a universal sign would’ve saved me some grief.
In the US, some business owners get pretty clever. When I was around twenty years old, I went to a restaurant in upstate NY with a “horse stable” theme, a theme that continued to the bathrooms. Cute, right? It is if you know about horses. The restrooms were marked “Mares” and “Stallions.” Thanks to Rocky Balboa, “Italian Stallion” did narrow it down, however, I had always thought a mare was a male horse. Yeah, yeah, I KNOW the other one clearly said stallion. Point is, it STILL gave me a moment to pause. Maybe I over think things?
The worse restroom demarcation—by far—goes to an establishment I visited in Belgium this past fall. In fact, I’d probably still be standing their pondering the doors today if someone at my dinner table hadn’t given me fair warning about the door labels. They used the male/female symbols here.
Empowered by the right answer, I plowed into the correct room and waited for a stall to become free. Imagine my shock when a man, one of my fellow travelers who wasn’t sitting with my group, walked out of a stall.
He stopped, blinked a few times, then uttered, “Hi.”
“Hey.” Neither of us moved then I finally said, “You know, you’re in the wrong bathroom.”
He snorted. “Yeah, I know that now.”
Please tell me I’m not the only one who has these strange things happen to them. Pretty please…