Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting down to business

If you’ve ever spent any time in Asia – unless you’ve spent your whole time secluded in tourist hotels – you’ll have encountered the squat toilet. Opinion is divided on the merits of the device. Some argue that it is more hygienic, in that the feet are the only part of the body to come into contact with apparatus; and also that the squatting posture is a more natural one for the elimination of food wastes. Others find it very difficult to keep their balance, resulting in all manner of mishaps. Essentially, though, it’s a question of what you’ve become used to; when Mao Zedong visited the Soviet Union, he always insisted on taking a Chinese-style loo with him, which he would have placed on top of the barbaric occidental seat.

Increasingly, at least in premises where foreigners tend to congregate, sit-down, flush toilets are becoming the norm; although it’s also fairly common to have both styles represented in the same set of stalls, which surely is the most helpful and civilised solution in a global, polycultural society.


Well, you’d think that, wouldn’t you? The management of a shopping centre in Rochdale has apparently been advised that some customers from Asian backgrounds might prefer to use squat toilets. And seeing as how they’re in the business of making money by giving the customers a wide choice of goods and services, they decided to install a few squat loos, for those who might want such a thing. You know, a bit like when you couldn’t get organic vegetables in supermarkets, and then some people said
“It would be nice if we could get organic vegetables in supermarkets”, and then suddenly you could get organic vegetables in supermarkets, but you could also get non-organic vegetables as well, if you preferred.

Then the
Daily Mail got hold of the story. Now, to be fair, they could have really gone to town on this one. Granted, they interview someone from the British Toilet Association, who says he thinks it’s a bad idea, but doesn’t mention that installing squat toilets is rather cheaper than the alternative, so it’s obviously bad news for his members. And they quote the response of Philip Davies, the Conservative rentaquote bell-end MP for Shipley, who, after the Pavlovian bit about political correctness, informs us that “We in Britain are rightly proud of our toilets”, which is just plain weird, and perhaps a little sad.

But it’s only when they throw it open to the readers that things get really silly:
  • What happened to western civilisation! I am certainly not interested in his backward money wasting scams.
  • Absolutely disgusting that these things should be used in a pubic [sic] place in Britain, may as well squat in the street, yet more of the trend to Islamify Britain.
  • You must be joking!? They are welcome to do number ones and number twos here, but don't take our toilets away from us aswell as everything else!! I can't read the Daily Mail whilst squatting down.
  • I see, so now we English are not even allowed to sit down on the toilet anymore in case it offends "asians".
And so on. To be fair, there’s an occasional blip of common sense, such as this remark from a reader in Shanghai:
  • Great news. Don't British people expect Western toilets wherever they go in the world regardless of the culture of their hosts?
which is immediately red-arrowed into the ground. But that’s the thing about Mail readers. Wherever they go in the world, it’s not actually a foreign country or a foreign culture they’ve arrived in; it’s just a bit of Britain that hasn’t quite got the hang of proper, British civilisation yet, where, with a bit of encouragement and, if necessary, a sound thrashing or two, the natives will eventually learn to speak English, drink sherry, and defecate in a manner that is only right and proper, preferably with the assistance of the Daily Mail.

PS: Just wondering if a branch of this restaurant might appear in Rochdale. Although the seating appears to follow the Mail-approved model.

18 comments:

Spinsterella said...

I vaguely remember from my interrailing days that they had squat toilets in France, not a particularly Islamic or Asian country last time I visited.

dwittkower said...

Zizek might argue that this is a most fundamental and strangely honest place for a struggle of principle and identity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwTJXHNP0bg

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n17/slavoj-zizek/knee-deep

blackwatertown said...

@ Spinsterella - Yes. Squat toilets used to be cited as evidence of French decadence. In fact, a major reason to fear crossing to the continent in general. Surprised the Mail missed the Asian-French axis of evil.
But - in defence of Philip Shipley - well, not of him personally - but of what he's quoted as saying. Public bog provision is something of which a country can be proud - the more the better. COuld do with more women's bogs though.
And - as the Daily Mail reader cited pointed out, it's not so comfy to read squatting as it is sitting. Although one might another use for the Mail in a squatter.

Tim Footman said...

I suspect the Mail readership would suggest that that just proves their point, Spin.

But old Slavoj doesn't address non-European plumbing, DW. How uncharacteristically ethnocentric of him.

BWT: if you have a healthy digestive system - and that can be assisted by a squatting posture - there should be little or no time to read while doing one's biz. Whether it's the Mail or one of my books or your own fabulous debut novel.

Richard said...

Well over 30 years ago I used to go fishing on Dover Harbour's Western arm. There was only one public khazi on it and it was a squatter. Unfortunately there wasn't a pissoir so it was usually in a pitiful state.

Goodness knows what they're complaining about - go into any gents' stall over here and it's pretty bloody obvious that hardly anyone's capable of using a bowl correctly anyway. You certainly wouldn't catch me sitting on one unless I could disinfect it first.

When I worked at the Twyfords factory for a while a few years ago, we made and sold them. They went under the name "Arabian" I recall.

Annie said...

I have nothing of value to add to this, except to say that my friend once brought back a brand of toilet roll from Thailand called "Sit and Smile".

Billy said...

Don't they call squat toilets "Turkish" toilets in France.

Blimming Islamics.

Geoff said...

Are there disabled squat toilets?

moreidlethoughts said...

"Can't read the Daily Mail while squatting..."
Thanks for the laugh.

A couple of days ago I read (or heard on radio) that ladies of mature years who suffer from incontinence can improve sphincter function by putting their feet on a footstool and keeping the spine straight while emptying the bladder.

Or they could learn to squat.

Z said...

I've never mastered the knack of using one without the risk of drenching my clothes and have to undress my lower half. I have no idea how an Indian woman in a sari manages, especially when then cleaning herself from a tap.

A (British) friend of a friend declares he's unable to empty his bowels unless squatting, so he hops on to the seat like a pixie on a toadstool. Debating this, opinion was divided whether it risked a fissure or severe splashback, depending on the strain or softness of the evacuation.

Tim Footman said...

Indeed, Richard. It's actually much easier to clean a squat toilet, you just hose everything towards the hole.

Now we're getting to the other subject, Annie; the use of the hose or other water-based method of cleaning one's person, versus paper. Wonder if any UK shopping centre would dare to install a proper Japanese toilet, with air driers...

Billy: I suspect there's a hard core of Mail readers who think all Asians come from France, because they all smell funny.

Never seen one, Geoff. Sure one could arrange some sort of swing contraption, and dangle the individual over the hole.

Exactly, MIT. I've seen many doctors recommend that the best way to use western toilets is to squat with one's feet on the rim. Knees up, Mother Brown.

As I said, Z, it just depends on what you're used to, and personal preference. I find it quite difficult, but people who've been brought up with it cope just fine. So the Rochdale mob appear to be doing exactly the right thing. And they've annoyed some shouty morons as well, which can't be bad.

Rog said...

Always with a finger on the Shitegeist eh, Tim?

Bringing up the rear, I'm reminded of the old German toilets with a little shelf for you to inspect your work in detail before pulling the flush.

In some tabloid newspapers it's called proofreading.

notRuairi said...

The only thing I have against squat toilets is that there are too many variables. We've all suffered... y'know... explosive...

barrymanana said...

I work part-time in a bathroom/kitchen showroom. Most of the time I'm by myself, with little or nothing to do.
To amuse myself I often lift the 'soft-close' lids and seats of the loos and watch them slowly lower down to close. It's actually quite comforting.

No doubt time for a career change.

barrymanana said...

I work part-time in a bathroom/kitchen showroom. Most of the time I'm by myself, with little or nothing to do.
To amuse myself I often lift the 'soft-close' lids and seats of the loos and watch them slowly lower down to close. It's actually quite comforting.

No doubt time for a career change.

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

"We in Britain are rightly proud of our toilets”

Good heavens. The mind boggles. Although it does show that today's politicians must have a blandly patriotic opinion/soundbite on absolutely everything.

Tim Footman said...

Follow dwittkower's links above for Zizek's musings on such matters, Rog.

Very true, notRuairi. Perhaps the real advantage of the sit-down model is the trusty seal it offers when cheek meets seat.

Not necessarily a change, Barry. Just parlay that experience into another pastime. Performance poetry, perhaps?

This Philip Davies bloke certainly does, 9/10. I'm hoping against hope that they'll bring back Brass Eye, just to catch him out.

brokenbiro said...

If I want to spend a penny
Or have a little poo
in the bowl... and there isn't any
- will I get 1p back in lieu?