Restroom, WC, Toan

A hilariously straightforward bathroom reminder: the second point reads 'do not leave a trail behind you on the porcelain!

My friend Andrea says that here priority travel phrase when visiting a country where English is not the primary language is: ‘Where is the bathroom?’ This makes sense, as you might not have time to translate back and forth by the time you need to ask. In Sweden, a public restroom is labeled ‘WC’ like in the UK, although no one ever calls it a ‘water closet’. Actually, when anyone in Sweden refers to that room in English, it gets called ‘the toilet.’

I didn’t think I carried a lot of Anglo/North American uprightness, but I have to admit that the phrase ‘going to the toilet’ has always thrown me off a bit. I fully recognize that ‘bathroom’ doesn’t make sense since there is no bath in public washrooms (or even in most apartment washrooms.) ‘Washroom’ itself is a bit euphemistic, like ‘powder room’. ‘WC is as anachronistic as ‘horseless carriage.’ I was a bit taken aback at the airport when I asked where we should set up the measuring equipment, and our host suggested the restroom as the perfect place since it was the right size and private. He meant the room where resting happens (picture a nice first aid room with a sink and cot), not the room where ‘restrooming’ happens. This is really an unfair idiosyncrasy of the English language, making it unnecessarily hard for folks who speak English as a foreign language. It has strong roots as a social convention, but it just does not make for an accurate picture. In polite company, anglophone Canadians talk about animals ‘going to the washroom’ (they don’t) or people ‘ going to the washroom behind some trees’ while camping (luxury camping?).

However, I still find it hard to excuse myself from a group of people and say ‘I have to use the toilet.’ I don’t have a problem with ‘toilette’ in French or ‘toan’ in Swedish, but in English it just seems like an over-share that no one has asked for. You have to know someone pretty well to announce ‘I am going to take an epic dump, don’t expect me back for a few minutes’; outside of a locker room or shared dormroom in a frat house, it just seems a bit disrespectful. Some Swedes asked me about my ‘washroom’ vocab, and I had to own up to just being a little stuck to the euphemisms. ‘Toilet’ to me is the specific plumbing fixture, and is far too specific to describe my destination or activities. As irrational as it is, I still use ‘washroom’. Even though it is out of step with what everyone else says, and even though it is not very accurate. Maybe ‘toilet’ will grow on me… or maybe I can compromise and just say it in Swedish.

1 Comment

  1. I am laughing so damn hard, because this is just that real. Plus, “epic dump” is funny no matter how you slice it.

    I say “washroom” and Americans give me a hard time – or just look at me blankly, forcing me to explain further. Maybe they’d figure it out more graciously if I took to asking where I can take an epic dump.

    I really dislike “restroom” although really, it’s just as euphemistic as “washroom.” “Restroom” suggests to me that I should bring a cup of tea and reading material with me.

    And I am with Andrea. My guaranteed words-to-learn when travelling are please, thank you, and where is the bathroom, please?

    Thank you for this post!

Comments are closed.