Monday, June 20, 2011

Les toilettes

There's a universal part of women and road trips, and you can probably guess what it is. Yes, it's, as the French say, les toilettes. I used to think they called it "Les salle des bains," until I asked for that a few times on my recent trip to France and learned that it meant, literally, "A place to take a bath." Big difference. Well, in most cases, that is ...

But back to the toilet issue. Women need them, and we need them often, and we need them to smell like roses. I don't know why God made us this way; he just did. As a child, I remember my dad hating to stop, as he put it, "every 15 minutes," though I'm sure it was more like 30 in reality.

My husband is pretty good about stopping, though inevitably he does it at some of the worst-looking places on the planet. I think it's a passive-aggressive way of discouraging me from asking, though I must admit I'm picky, and there have been times when we've pulled up and I've blatantly refused. After all, a girl has to have her standards.

This leads to some driving around, and, after a few tries, I'll find an acceptable place. When I return, he'll ask, "Well, how was it?" Though I realize he's joking, I always end up giving him a rating and some critique of the place. You know, areas they could improve upon and so forth.

After traveling to France, I realized that, as Dorothy says, "There's no place like home," especially when it comes to bathrooms. One thing we take for granted is -- clean or not -- in the U.S., they are bountiful. Trust me, there are more bathrooms in the stretch of road between here and Statesboro than there are in most of Paris.

Don't get me wrong, our tour of the country was incredible. We saw Notre Dame, Arc d' triomphe, the Louvre, the Mediterranean coast, Avignon, Arles, Monaco, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, but the tricky part of our whirlwind trip, which included 12-16 hour days, was locating a decent powder room. I traveled with a group of women, and we soon bonded over this common issue. Believe me, when we asked each other "Well, how was it?" we meant it!

Soon, if we discovered a place, we'd quickly tell the others, and give them a few tips, as foreign toilettes are not like ours.

"You have to pay for this one," we'd say, or "Just FYI, this one has a male attendant inside the restroom," or "OK, they are in the back of the restaurant, but don't look to your right while you're waiting because the men's urinal has saloon-type doors," or "Save your receipt and use the code to get into this one, but there's no toilet seat (common in most of Paris, I learned)."

But perhaps the most bizarre bit of advice came in Les Baux, a wonderful, quaint place in the Provence area of France. My friend, Staci, and I went to use the bathrooms, which were unusually easy to locate. Fortunately, the rest of our group was there and were coming down the stairs when we arrived.

"There's a trick to this one," they said.

By this time, I'd been in the country four days and felt that I had seen everything, so I wasn't too worried.

"OK, what's that?"

"Well, you have to push the button to get in, and then once you get in, push the button, and the door will lock, the light will come on and the lid will lower."

"OK, I think I can handle that."

"But that's not the tricky part. The tricky part is that when you get out, once you close the door, it automatically locks and showers the place down."

Well, that was different, very different, but seemed relatively easy enough.

"OK, got it!" my friend and I said.

Off went our companions, and I ran up to push the red button. First of all, a red button never stands for anything good. Red equals panic and that was soon the case. I entered the first small silver stall and gave it a push. Immediately, the light went out, and I found myself standing in pitch-black darkness.

"Staci!" I cried and hurriedly opened it back up.

"Why don't I watch the kids, and you go first?" I asked like the good, considerate friend I am.

Staci, whom I learned remains calm through any situation, had no problem doing so.

She emerged with a smile on her face, and, as she exited, I grabbed the door, and quickly went in. It was seconds away from closing when she yelled, "Wait, Leigh! Don't let it close! If it shuts, it will shower on you!"

I stopped it in the nick of time. Flustered, I went out, closed it and heard the downpour of what sounded like Niagara Falls. Once it had finished its car wash-like cycle, I went back in and pushed the button. No problems there. When I tried to exit, however, I couldn't get the door open and soon found myself in an all-out panic: "STACI! STACI! STACI! I CAN'T GET OUT!"

"Push the red button!" she yelled.

I did and, of course, survived.

Now, nine days and approximately 40 bathrooms later, I'm home, and I'm grateful.

My husband should be, too, because something tells me when he stops at some roadside dump and asks, "Well, how was it?" my reply -- as long as my clothes are dry and my hair's not dripping wet -- will be, "Absolutely perfect."

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