Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2004

Toilet summit is simply flush with ideas

November 7, 2004


I am often criticized for writing immature "bathroom" humor, and not enough about important topics. So today I'm going to write about a major international event that is going to take place Nov. 17-19 in Beijing, China: The World Toilet Summit.

I am not making up the World Toilet Summit. It was brought to my attention by alert reader Marc Howell, who alerted me to the World Toilet Organization, a group dedicated to improving the world's public toilets, with a Web site at ("Org" is a sound made by many of the world's public toilets.)

This site states that the World Toilet Summit is a gathering of "the KEY DECISION MAKERS, KEY OFFICIALS and the MOVERS AND SHAKERS" of the international toilet industry. The Beijing host committee -- which includes an official named (I am still not making any of this up) an official named "Stone Wang" -- states that the summit will feature workshops on "hot topics" in the toilet industry. For example, Mr. Seok-Nam Gang of the Korea Clean Toilet Assn. will present "Toilets As Tourism Attraction."

Other hot topics include "Toilets as Marketing Tools" and "Generating Revenue Through Advertisements in Good Toilets." There will also be a presentation of the "Loo of the Year Awards," a tour of "toilets and related facilities in Beijing," and a "dinner show."

I think the World Toilet Summit is a great idea, because most of the world's public toilets, in a word, stink. I'm not saying the United States is perfect in this department. We've made some serious mistakes, the worst being the introduction of "low-flow" toilets, which clog when asked to handle anything larger than, say, a molecule.

Also I am not a fan of those high-tech public toilets with the automatic sensors that either (a) become overexcited and flush themselves 37 times before you even sit down, or (b) lapse into a coma, so that when you're done you find yourself waving your arms like a lunatic and loudly remarking "Well, I'm done!" in an effort to revive your toilet so it will flush and you can leave, while the people waiting the stall wonder what kind of sick pervert thing you are doing in there.

Also -- and I cannot stress this too much -- public restrooms should be clearly marked with signs that say MEN or WOMEN. If there have to be symbols instead of words, the man symbol should clearly be a man, and the woman symbol should clearly be a woman wearing a giant unattractive "A-line" style skirt. Theme restaurants should NOT use cutesy names like "Sheilas," "Caballeros," "Colleens," "Galoots," etc.; nor should they use ambiguous drawings that can be misunderstood in dim lighting by a person who has had a couple of vodka gimlets and thus finds himself barging into the ladies' room, not that I have done this more than twice.

But for all the flaws of our public toilets, they stand head (har!) and shoulders above those of much of the rest of the world. In parts of Europe, when you enter a public restroom, you often find yourself face to face with some hideous dripping slime-covered contraption originally built by Vikings out of petrified mastodon bones. And as if that's not scary enough, sometimes there's a lurking "attendant" who might belong to a completely different gender from yourself, and who expects you to tip her even though it's clear that neither she nor anybody else has ever actually cleaned the restroom, as evidenced by the presence of bacteria the size of wolverines.

But at least your European restroom contains some form of toilet. In other parts of the world, all you find is a hole in the floor, as if the toilet has been stolen by commode rustlers. Sometimes there isn't even a hole. Once, while visiting a zoo in China, I asked where the restroom was, and I was directed to: a wall. On one side of this wall were large exotic animals doing their business right out in the open; on the other side were zoo visitors doing exactly the same thing. To this day, unfortunately, this is the image that comes to my mind whenever I hear the words "Great Wall of China."

So I applaud the World Toilet Organization for its efforts to improve the world's public toilets. I think this concept could be used in tourism advertising ("KOREA -- Come for the History; Stay for the Public Toilets"). You probably can't attend the summit, but you CAN take part in (I am STILL not making this up) World Toilet Day. This year, it's Nov. 19. Let's all take a few moments to observe this very special occasion. And then let's wash our hands.

-- Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

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