Where … to spend a penny in style

Whilst we can’t guarantee the price, we can guarantee the style of the forthcoming mini-series of tips on European … er … well how should one put it?

Americans balk at the matter-of-factness of the “t-word”. Mention toilet in their presence and be prepared for sharp intakes of breath and looks of disdain, shock and horror. The t-word has become as, if not more, offensive than the f-word. For the convenience of our transatlantic friends, here are some tips to help relieve the embarrassment of having to use the t-word when nature calls whilst travelling in Europe.

What to ask for? Well, we Brits find restroom problematic. It implies that you’ll be gone for Quite Some Time. If you return promptly, you might be greeted by sympathetic questions about your jet lag. If you’re away for longer then expect to be asked if you’re now feeling more relaxed.

Likewise, washroom is more applicable to a significant wash-and-brush-up. Reappearing in much the same state of cleanliness may raise an eyebrow or two about what you’ve been doing.

Asking for the bathroom will just confuse matters. Just what are you contemplating doing in there? Without a bathtub? Without a towel? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

While we’re considering American euphemisms, let me say that John will also lead to confusion. Which John is the John or did you mean Johann, Juan, Ioan or Jean depending upon which country you’re visiting. The search will begin.

As for can, well we’ve all seen Orange Is The New Black so we’ll assume that you’re over here to visit some unfortunate incarcerated relative. Where is the local prison? Well it’s quite a trek …

Turning the other cheek, we Brits have cloakroom. The derivation is obvious but, unless you’re attending a Harry Potter or murder mystery themed event, it sounds way too operatic for everyday use. We also have loo which you’ll probably find just too quaint and somewhat childish.

We can all agree that powder room is not only dated but also needlessly gender-specific. I have never powdered my nose and no other part of my body has been powdered since I was a baby. Do adults still buy talcum powder I wonder and if so, for what do they use it?

My aunt always used to say “I’m just going to see a man about a dog“. My sister and I always hoped that one day she’d be successful in her negotiations and return with puppies. You however, might be met with directions to the local pet shop.

On that note, let me say that throughout Europe, from Wales (toiled) to Albania (tualet) and from Lake Geneva (toilettes) to the Finland Station* (туале́т – tualét), most toilets sound like toilet. Whereever you need to spend a penny, a lek, a rappen or a kopek, just ask for the toilets (or the local derivation) and there’ll be no confusion or embarrassment.

* Fans of the Pet Shop Boys should know that the Finland Station isn’t in Finland (toiletti), it’s in St. Petersburg, Russia. Lenin arrived there from Switzerland in 1917.

Next time we’ll visit some of my favourite toilets in Brussels so keep your legs crossed until then.