Recently, I have been seeing ads on TV for Kohler’s new “No Touch Flush” toilets. You just wave your hand over a certain part of the top of the tank and the toilet magically flushes! Wow! How neat!
And then I thought about it.
As you may know, I have cats. And cats like to go everywhere and play with things. After my initial thought about how cool it would be to have a space-age toilet, I thought about how this would fit into my household. With my cats. Yes, I can totally see Rutherford the Terrible sitting on the toilet tank, waving his tail around and making the toilet flush. Perhaps the first time would freak him out, and maybe even the second time would send him running. But he’s a smart cat. Eventually, he would figure out that waving through the air would make the water circle in the bowl and he would just sit there. He’d wave his tail and watch with fascination as the water circled and went down. And he’d wave his tail again. And again. And again. And I would have a $400 water bill.
And what about guests? I have had to explain the newfangled shower doohickey in my bathtub shower because it’s not obvious how to make the water stop coming out the bottom and start coming out the top. Imagine everyone’s embarrassment when I had to explain how to flush the toilet! I mean, how hard can knowing how to flush a toilet BE?
[Insert slow, hysterical laughter here.]
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I almost had to leave a public toilet unflushed simply because I couldn’t figure out how to flush it.
You can read that again and let it really sink in.
Even worse, in that same land far, far away, this exact scenario happened no less than THREE times.
You read that right. There were THREE instances where I spent an embarrassingly lengthy amount of time standing in a restroom, wondering how to flush the toilet.
The land was Sweden; the time was early summer in 2000. My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Staffan, had brought me to his country of origin via a deal with his work. We had been dating for little less than a year, mostly via the telephone and emails, and I had just quit my job, quit smoking, and moved to Iowa to be with him. No sooner did I do that, than his job took him back to Sweden, and me with him for about a month.
I was prepared for the language barrier. I was surprised when there wasn’t much of one because everyone spoke English. I was prepared for different food, different money, and different furniture. I wasn’t prepared for different toilets. When we settled in the furnished apartment his company had rented for him, my first surprise was the toilet. There was a button kind of thing on the top. After I did my business, I stared at it for a long time, jet lag making me completely unable to comprehend what a person would do with a button on top of a toilet tank. I looked under the toilet, behind the toilet, and all around the toilet, wondering where the lever was that flushed the toilet. Finally, I realized I would have to admit that I was not as cosmopolitan as he was and ask the man. I called Staffan in, and he showed me how to flush. You push the button. Okay. Got it. Swedish toilets are different from American toilets and the German toilets I encountered during a high school trip to Germany. You push the button.
I now felt prepared to pee anywhere in Sweden.
I was cocky.
Remember when I said I did it three times? That’s right. There’s MANY ways flush a toilet in Sweden. The other two instances were in public restrooms, with hordes of women standing outside the stall door doing the peepee dance. Okay, maybe not hordes. Actually, outside one was just Staffan and a museum curator who kept the place open an extra few minutes because I promised I would be quick. Since Staffan and I were still in the honeymoon phase of living together, I was more concerned that he thought I was ill than I was about the curator keeping the place open. So there I stood, staring at the toilet with the knob coming out of the top, wondering why pushing didn’t work. I pushed again. Nothing. I turned it to the right. Nothing. I turned it to the left. Nothing. Finally, right when I was about to leave and hope the nice curator man wouldn’t notice, I figured it out. PULL!
Outside the third stall door really was a horde of women twitching and crossing their legs. And I’m sure every one of them was mumbling the Swedish equivalent of curse words wondering why I was just standing in the stall facing the toilet when I was CLEARLY finished with my business. This was in Skansen. Staffan had brought me there because it’s the best museum/zoo/historical place in all of Stockholm. (The other is the Vasa Museum. An entire museum dedicated to a FABULOUS ship that sailed for exactly 15 minutes before sinking. I would never call the Swedes a prideful nation. They goof, they put up a museum about it.) We had taken the bus, since public transportation in Stockholm is FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC. Also, our apartment was on the same bus line, so no switchies to confuse this here country girl who had never ridden a bus before that wasn’t yellow. After over half an hour in a bumpy bus, I had to pee. This was a Saturday, so Skansen was packed, and there was a line for bathroom, but it moved quickly. Until I got stuck standing there wondering how to flush. It turned out, what looked like an empty seat cover dispenser was a GIANT flusher button. I mean, it couldn’t have been any bigger. It was like the elementary school version of a button to flush a toilet. And since I don’t speak Swedish, even if it had had a big sign on it saying what it was, I still wouldn’t have known.
Why on earth are there so many ways to flush a toilet? Why can’t we all just agree on one method. Whether it’s a lever or a button or a pulley, why can’t the whole world agree on a flusher? I really think if we could, then we’d be one step closer to world peace. Maybe all the world leaders are cranky because the toilet down the hall from the peace talks has a push button when they expect a lever? Maybe we just need an international symbol that we can put on flushers all over the world. And don’t suggest automatic flushers because they are tools of the devil, I’m sure. They always flush when I’m mid-pee.
In the meantime, until we get a standard for flushers instituted, if you follow someone into a bathroom and they didn’t flush, give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they honestly didn’t know how.