Toilets. Let’s talk about toilets.

My non-American friends tease me about our careful use of the word describing the room where we take care of our bodily functions. Most of them, from a wide variety of English speaking countries, just call the room a toilet.

A typical exchange with them goes something like this.

“Restroom? Are you going in there to take a nap?”

“Bathroom? Are you going in there to take a bath?”

I’ve been away from the United States long enough that I no longer know what the politically correct word for that room is.

I tease these friends about their use of the term toilet. It’s a short, curt word that says it all. But, when buildings overseas have rooms, offices or apartments for rent they usually hang a huge sign outside that states, “To Let”. A quick read forms the word toilet in my mind. My typical flippant comment to them is, “Wow! I’ve never seen a 35-story toilet before.

As long as I have toilets on my mind let’s talk about their construction. With the present effort to live as healthy as possible, and eliminate nearly all germs, why are so many bathroom doors unhealthy?

New construction, airline terminals in particular, have it correct with no doors at all. The user enters the men or women’s facility through a C– shaped opening around an entrance wall. No doors.

A majority of public toilets have it completely backwards. The typical design has one pushing open the door to enter and then, on leaving, one must grab a handle and pull the door open to exit. When you’re really unlucky the room has two doors to open and close as though the space in the middle was some sort of methane-blocking chamber. If the operation of the doors were reversed, and you could push the door open to exit, you wouldn’t mind so much if “the other guys or gals” didn’t wash their hands before leaving. You could push the door open with your fist or elbow and your freshly washed hands would remain germ free. Even with a double door installation.

One of my younger friends was probably overly influenced by Leonardo Di Caprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes in the movie, “The Aviator”. Howard Hughes was a germaphobe and, in one scene, he’s trapped in a public toilet because it has a pull-to-leave door. He leans against the wall until another person eventually enters the facility. Howard then quickly holds the door open with his covered elbow and makes his exit. (He probably burned the suit.)

My young friend and I discussed the medical benefits of being exposed to enough germs to develop a degree of immunity. This helped him advance to applying his used, damp, paper towel to open the door. That worked if the trashcan was close enough to hit from the door. If he wasn’t assured of hitting the basket we agreed that he was not allowed to be a litterbug and throw it on the floor. He had to put it in his pocket. That created the issue of disposing of the door-handle germs now in his pocket. It didn’t take long for him to see that was a giant step backward and he began opening the door with his bare hands. He still doesn’t like it and wishes that people would see the practicality and health benefits of reversing the operation of bathroom, excuse me, toilet doors. It would be an immense job but immense jobs can be completed. I once had an immense assignment that seemed insurmountable. My manager, who I still admire years later, then advised me on how to eat an elephant. “One bite at a time”. Change the doors around one at a time, as they require maintenance or, god forbid, painting.

While discussing this earth-shaking situation with some of my Indian friends here in the Middle East they told me about one of their movies, “Toilet, A Romance”. It’s on Netflix with English subtitles. It’s an interesting cultural look at the topic from a subcontinent, Indian village perspective.

Strangely enough the movie reminded me of my family’s first indoor toilet. There was a long discussion, over many days. Since the thing had been under a Mulberry Tree for decades, why change it now? Was it healthy moving that sort of thing into the house? I must remind the reader that this was back in the early 1940s in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in the State of Missouri. The decision made, the toilet was moved inside the house and the following winter all of the objectors were on board with the warm, indoor convenience. It might have been accidental in design but even that door, on the outhouse under the Mulberry tree, was pull to enter and push to exit.

Next time we’ll talk about something more uplifting. Perhaps toilet seats? Nah. Just kidding. We’ll talk about failure. Failure on an individual level and on a business level.