It’s the little differences that make living in San Francisco strange. Sometimes it’s only the words we use to describe common occurrences that creates the difference. Take the very common occurrence of nature calling, for example. And with two young daughters this is something I need to think about a lot; before going on shopping, cinema and play park trips and (more importantly) during all these activities. I always thought it was funny that people in America called the loo (I picked up the term “loo” from my British husband) or toilet, a “bathroom” or a “restroom.” Years ago when my sister came back from a summer working in America she started saying “bathroom” and “restroom.” I remember thinking, “But she isn’t having a bath or taking a rest, she is going to the loo, so what’s she on about?” She still says “bathroom” to this day, and that’s after living in Asia for more than 20 years. I’ve noticed a look of puzzlement on some people’s faces when she asks where the bathroom is. She eventually gets exasperated and says, “I mean the toilet. Where is the toilet, please?” When visiting Asia it’s a good idea just to say toilet and you should get pointed in the right direction. On this point, my husband disagrees and says he has more luck with the word “restroom,” so go figure (as they say in America).
On the subject of loos, it can be challenging to find one here in San Francisco (even when using the right word for it). Lots of places have “Customers Only” signs, and they really enforce the policy. Also they are hard to find in shopping centres, usually located at the back of the shop or away from the door or on the top floor or bottom floor of the shopping centre. It seems like it might be to prevent homeless people using them, of which there are a lot. In coffee shops, loos are often locked or need a code to open them. That’s common enough back in the UK and Ireland also, or certainly more so than it used to be. In Singapore it is very unusual to need a code or key to open the loo door. I would sometimes go to a hotel if I needed to use the loo when out and about in Singapore. The bathrooms in lots of the posh hotels are pretty luxurious. If I were go to a hotel here, I have visions of a security guard leveling his gun at me.
The oddest thing about the loos here is you can see into them even when the door is closed.
I noticed it for the first time in the airport and thought it must be a security thing (providing visibility into risky behaviour, wherever it takes place) but it’s the same everywhere. You can see in through the side between the door and the frame, and at the bottom of the door to the floor there is a large gap. It is bizarre to someone not used to it. In other countries, toilets are usually enclosed and the activities within invisible. I was out with my daughters and the younger one said loudly, “Look Mama, I can see the woman inside. What’s she doing?” Enough said, we left quickly. There is probably some law saying you can’t look inside the door when someone is inside. There are a lot of rules and regulations here in America, and I am saying that after living 20 years in the land of laws (Singapore). I know I should now list some of the rules but that is for another post—there are certainly enough to fill one. For now, I’ll admit that I’ll never get used to saying “Restroom” when I mean “Loo,” never get used to spelling “behaviour” without the essential “u,” and that despite being new around here, I don’t actually say “Po-tah-to” either.