Thought Leadership

The smallest room

By Colin Walls

Speakers of the English language love euphemisms – we say one thing when we actually mean something else. As far as I can tell, this is a universal practice, though some of the actual euphemisms vary between countries [the US and UK, for example]. I have often wondered whether this practice is confined to English or do users of other languages do the same thing?

I am thinking about a topic which is second only to sex in the amount of euphemistic terminology that is applied to it. I want to talk about the – ahem – smallest room in the house …

We all need to do it. No matter whether you are rich or poor, famous or obscure, even President Obama and HRH Queen Elizabeth II need to use the toilet. Perhaps you might call it something else: lavatory, WC, little boys/girls room, bathroom, restroom, bog, John, can, Gents/Ladies … You may even describe what you are going to do: “spend a penny”, “powder my nose”, “take a bio break” … I have carefully avoided some of the coarser terminology, of which there is plenty. There are clearly a good many ways to describe this universal activity.

Having traveled around the world quite a lot, I have noticed that there is nothing universal about toilets – you never quite know what you might find …

I will start in the US. I have observed two odd things. Although toilets in houses seem to be much the same as elsewhere, in public facilities and many hotel rooms they seem to have some kind of turbo-charged flush mechanism. I have often wondered where the power comes from. The second strange thing is the lack of privacy in public rest rooms. The stalls have sides and doors that start very high off the floor, so one is treated to a great view of everyone’s underwear. I have often wondered what the thinking is behind this design, when most of us [I would have thought] would like to be private under those circumstances.

Across Europe there is much variation. In several countries it is common to find a toilet bowl with a kind of “shelf” directly below the seat. This affords the user of the benefit of being able to inspect the fruits of their labors before flushing it away. I wonder why people want to do this. In Finland – and I believe this is a unique Finnish feature – toilets are commonly fitted with a hand-held shower head. I assume that this is to ensure good hygiene, but, as it is connected to the cold water supply, it might be a bit of a shock.

In some parts of southern Europe, there are still “squat” toilets, which have no seat, just a hole in the floor and two places to put your feet. Moving across to India, this kind of facility might be considered a luxury. There is a scene early in the excellent Slumdog Millionaire movie, where a kid is trapped inside a toilet. This facility is a shed on legs, with a hole in the floor, which stands in a lake of sewerage. The boy is forced to jump into the lake to escape. It is funny in a movie, but I would rather not ponder that for too long.

At another extreme, we have Japan. I have only had the pleasure of visiting that country once, many years ago. Going to the rest room in the office was fascinating. Next to the toilet seat was a control panel, with various buttons labeled in Japanese. I was curious. When I had finished what I went there for, I stood up and tried pressing buttons. Nothing happened. I saw wiring going into the seat and concluded that, in addition to heating, it must include a sensor. So, I applied some weight to the seat with my foot and started pressing buttons again. I little arm appeared with a nozzle on the end, which sprayed a jet of warm water upwards. The arm was then retracted and was replaced by a blast of warm air. If I were to be doing this experiment today, I would have my camera phone with me and treat you to pictures.

If you would like to see pictures appertaining to this tasteful topic, you might like to visit this site. This company is dedicated to the testing of toilets and, as you will be able to see, they are very thorough, which I, personally, find very reassuring. Happy flushing!

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at