Mandatory shitbreak, or: The uneasy walk to the office bathroom

Mandatory shitbreak, or: The uneasy walk to the office bathroom

“The Japanese toilet truly is a place of spiritual repose. […] No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden,” the Japanese philosopher Junichirō Tanizaki writes. “I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain.”
I mean, honestly – has anyone ever been to the office bathroom and experienced something even close to Tanazaki’s description? Only if you really gotta go, you go here, and face the ever-present danger of someone occupying the stall next to you. You hear as the belt opens, the lid lifts, and the noisy relief starts – accompanied by a slight moan and inevitably followed by the corresponding odor. While your neighbor grabs the toilet paper, his shoe peeks out from under the thin paper partition and you – holding your breath – witness what you never wanted to know: who had to go even more.

Be honest, do you use the office bathroom for No.2?

I have three children between the ages of 14 and 22 – all of them shitbreaks. My oldest daughter, for instance, had a traumatizing experience in preschool: A line in front of the bathroom prevented her from being able to go when she really had to. Preschool, high school, university… Toilet partitions stay with us all the way into employment. They make for excellent doodling pads but never serve their actual purpose of lending the shelter and privacy you need when you gotta go.
Danijela Pilic‘s Cosmopolitan article argues that stomach cramps in the office are solely a female problem and no man ever has comparable issues. They stroll to the john joyfully whistling and waving a newspaper. But if you ask your friends you’ll find: That’s not true! It’s everybody’s problem. In the last few months I have had fun poking around the taboo zone at birthday parties, at the bar, or during lunch break: Who actually is relaxed when using the office bathroom? No lie: No matter where I brought up the topic, in the end a mob of fussy people surrounded me, and confided in me about their traumas. They were glad to get the psychological strain off their chests for once. Men and women, bosses and secretaries. Everybody!

German stomach cramp culture?

“Our forebears, making poetry of everything in their lives, transformed what by rights should be the most unsanitary room in the house into a place of unsurpassed elegance, replete with fond associations with the beauties of nature. Compared to Westerners, who regard the toilet as utterly unclean and avoid even the mention of it in polite conversation…” Mr. Tanizaki writes.
Whose ridiculous idea was it to make bathroom partitions so short and thin? And what drives us to keep making them that way? You can enter buildings by the world’s best architects: museums, airports, even embassies. Once you get to the bathroom they’re all the same: badly soundproofed, exposing, and carelessly planned. Many of my friends admitted to using the disabled bathroom to get some privacy. Why? Because the stalls are sturdier, there is lots of room, and you get your own sink. In addition, a disabled bathroom is less frequented and therefore probably cleaner.
What’s so hard about extending every toilet stall by five square feet, building the partitions from floor to ceiling, using doors that actually shut, and putting in a sink? Maybe even add a mirror and nice lighting? And just maybe giving the architect a little more time for planning, so he can choose pretty tiles and extend the color concept to the bathroom!!? Just like at home – you probably didn’t just slap those white tiles on or found for the cheapest bowls? Yeah – and now, if you could make it smell like forest instead of urinal cake… It’s all possible, but bathrooms are not a Westerner’s strong suit.

Sound princess

The Japanese have even topped it off: Toilets featuring a self-cleaning function, showers, and hair dryers, touchlessly operatable controls, even the analysis of urine and blood pressure are a given nowadays. Their toilets are not merely functional, but strive to create an experience of comfort and well-being. Solid evidence of that provides the sound princess: Upon entrance of the bathroom, a loudspeaker imitates flushing sounds so that even the most obtrusive colon activity is drowned out. Visual privacy is complemented by auditory privacy. That any odors are immediately absorbed by the toilet goes without saying.

Doing one’s business

European toilet customs have changed over time, by the way. The Romans did not have that problem with privacy. They went to community bathrooms, had discussions, philosophical conversations, and even negotiated contracts. The term “doing one’s business” is more than 2,000 years old and originates from exactly that period. So next time you go to the john, inspect the partitions: You might find that your company’s bowl has more in common with its Roman counterpart than with the Japanese. Try to start a conversation with your stall neighbor – that little piece of plastic between you shouldn’t bother you too much.

28.08.2015 in