the second 45


skip to the loo, already

Posted in finland,travel by geodesia on August 24, 2009

It’s a thing we want to know about when we travel: the toilets. Tell us about the facilities. We’ll be visiting several times a day, and we don’t want to make embarrassing mistakes.

The Finnish bathroom is entirely familiar, only better in some respects. The toilet fixture itself is likely to be low-flow, but not those awful sluggish low-flow things we find in the States. I exposed myself as an American chauvinist right there, privately, in the john. I mean, didn’t you always just assume we ‘mericans would have all the best stuff? We’re such good little greedy consumers. So why don’t we have these toilets that work?And then there is often a little hand-held thingy hooked to a sink bowl crowding you in the public stall…a bidet attachment! It took me two visits to figure that one out. How civilized. I want one in my home bath.

In public, the WC is available at cafes, gas stations, indoor markets, and for cash at fully automated pods situated in high-touristed areas. It was a news story widely picked up, for some reason, when the Finnish Roadside Authority started requiring users to text-message the toilet to open the door at rest stops–supposed to reduce vandalism. Finns say it was pretty much a non-issue, as they are all on the phone all the time and already do all sorts of things by mobile phone, including paying for parking, metro tickets, various entertainment…why not for relief?

As an aside…Finns are on the phone all the time. Maybe that’s why they’re so reserved…they’re too busy on the phone to notice the people out there. When we arrived at the Helsinki airport, we were greeted with hugs and a phone–and very handy it was in a family group of six or eight highly impulsive people all headed out in whatever direction looked good at the moment, rarely in synchrony.

As another aside, Nokia made rubber boots long before they made phones. Guess where the higher profit margin resides.

As another aside, Nokia made rubber boots long before they made phones. Guess where the higher profit margin resides.

As for the private bathrooms, my experience all comes from relatively new construction, from the 1980s or later. The Finnish bathroom first of all has a handy feature in the door, a “bolt indicator” as I learned while trying to shop for some…I’m looking to adopt the custom here, although all the (expensive) choices I find are sold from the UK. It’s a deadbolt that shows a tiny “occupied” or red dot marker on the outside when locked, just like in an airplane…makes sense to me, a lot more than the dumb doorknob locks we have in this house that don’t actually work anymore. Very subtle sign that I missed until it was pointed out to me, but it saves rattling doorknobs and walking in on your visitors.

The bathroom is divided roughly into four quadrants. There’s a drain towards one side and the floor slopes there…no shower stall or bathtub but a showerhead, maybe with a ring from the ceiling with a shower curtain that can close around. A sink near that, sometimes using a single diverter for the shower and the sink. There’s a big floor squeegee nearby, perhaps, and in that case you squick off the floor after your shower. The other two quadrants hold the toilet throne and a smallish washer and dryer. There might be a towel rack or there might not, and that door over there is not the master closet you’re accustomed to in your American master bath. Clothes and storage are elsewhere. This door leads inward to the electric sauna.

The sauna I love, though, is the one at the summerplace or lake cottage out in the country, a separate little building with a wood stove, the place that’s warm when you’re cold, the place that’s clean when you’re dirty and there’s no running water to be had. The place that smells heavenly, of heated cedar and birch smoke and steam…at least until your husband decides to try throwing beer on the stove. Honestly. He said he saw it on the Simpsons. I said, “and if Homer threw a pig off a bridge, does that mean YOU would–” and then realized that Homer has thrown a pig off a bridge, and it’s better not to give the man ideas. Scorched beer fumes, gah. Pretty much any bad idea you can have, Homer has done it. Although come to think of it, it was Marge who poured the beer on the stove. Hmm.

I guess Marge knew her man. And this topic has been derailed. Oh well. It was time to stop, anyway.