Public toilets … sorry, rest rooms … can be a rarity in some parts of the US.
Public toilets … sorry, rest rooms … can be a rarity in some parts of the US.

The hell that is the American toilet

Americans go large with everything, from fridges to washing machines, food servings to family cars and how much alcohol they consider a standard drink in the land of the free-pour spirit.

After a while you come to expect it, even to feel a little short-changed if someone takes the time to measure your shot in a bar or packs less than half a pound of meat into a deli sandwich.

Everything here is super-sized, apart from one surprising, and kind of delicate, area.

You may think of it as the dunny, the loo or bathroom. Over here you can't refer to it as a toilet (it's a rest room or washroom) without someone looking at you as if you've used a rude word.

It starts with the size of the doors in public facilities.

Somehow the country where excess is everywhere can't manage to make its stall coverings sufficient for privacy, with wide gaps on the sides offering potential, excruciating eye contact and sometimes making the beginning of a person's knees visible from the floor up.

This is not OK and quite a shock to the expat.

President Donald Trump raised the issue of the strength of the standard toilet flush this week. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
President Donald Trump raised the issue of the strength of the standard toilet flush this week. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Then there is the amount of water the toilets use, often requiring multiple flushes.

This issue is so well-known that even US President Donald Trump saw fit to comment on it in a typically oddball White House press conference this week.

"People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once," he said. (These figures seem overblown, but this is not surprising).

"They end up using more water," he continued, apparently referring to federal water-saving restrictions introduced in 1994 for new plumbing.

"So the EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion."

Of course they are.

And then there is the absolute dearth of public toilets. It's not uncommon for a crowded restaurant in Manhattan to offer just one facility for the whole place and newcomers to the city soon learn friendly locations.

 

From fridges to servings, everything is super-sized in America … except for the size of public toilet doors, writes Sarah Blake.
From fridges to servings, everything is super-sized in America … except for the size of public toilet doors, writes Sarah Blake.

 

This stingy allowance for one of the few universal human needs is incongruous for many reasons, not least for how much water the average American likes to use in the course of their day, from leaving the tap running while brushing their teeth to cavalierly hosing off driveways and houses.

My dual US-Australian citizen relative, who lived for several years in Brisbane, takes perverse delight in washing dishes with the plug out and tap running. (He is that kind of person and this is not his only social crime.)

"You Aussies can't handle it when we do this," he chuckles, as gallons of fresh water pour down the giant drain in his giant sink in his giant house.

"But you have to understand our problem is that we have too much water."

Recently, when our tap water suddenly turned brown, the landlord advised us to leave it running for half an hour until it cleared, a solution that worked but was also enough to bring a tear to a parched Australian eye.

Sarah Blake is News Corp's US correspondent.

@sarahblakemedia


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