Call it powdering your nose, visiting the little girl's (or boy's) room, seeing a man about a horse, or heading off to Waterloo, at some point we all just have to go. Many of us cringe at calling it "the toilet" instead of "the restroom" or "the facilities," and thankfully the Dutch also call it a W.C. (pronounced vay-say) to spare us the indignity of loudly announcing to the guy behind the bar, "Hey! I need a toilet!"
It's something that in polite society we simply don't discuss. But when you move and experience things like shelf toilets, double flushers, 20 cent coin dishes, bathroom ladies, and "why on earth is there a calendar in here?" moments, perhaps we should lift the lid on the rules of etiquette just for a minute.
First, let me let you in on a little secret: the bathroom lady is your new best friend. I know she looks like a mild-mannered stranger adorned in a hostess apron, elbow-length rubber gloves, and sporting a mystery bottle and dodgy rag. In reality she is a super hero. She will bring you toilet paper if for some reason the one in the holder jams and you just can't get any out. She will wipe down the seat, bowl, walls, and handle so you can safely use the men's room in relative hygiene comfort- thus saving you from doing the pee-pee dance because the line for the ladies' is way too long. She will watch your kids so they can stay asleep in the stroller and quiet for the first time that day while you take that quick moment for yourself. And she will hunt down your mother, friend, or even a total stranger if you are caught out and realize you need a feminine hygiene product and you just don't have one at hand.
The first time you meet her you may feel a bit uncomfortable, or unsure of the protocol. Do you pay first or after? Do you just drop that 20 eurocents (or 40 or 50) in the dish or hand it to her? Should you tip her? One thing I learned about "being Dutch" is to just go with the flow. I prefer to pay first, directly into the dish. Then it is done and out of the way and I can concentrate on more important things. I never tip. I am not sure if that is correct, but watching hundreds of others who go before me also never tip I figure this is a pretty safe bet this is the social norm. Besides, the one time I did leave more than I was supposed to the bathroom lady actually hunted me down to give me my change. I can offer one piece of advice though: never eat the candy. Not everyone washes their hands afterward and you don't want to know what that stuff could be teeming with.
Which leads me to the private "vay-say" located in every one's house. If you happen to be at a modern house or an older one that has been recently remodeled, the chances of you coming face to face with a shelf toilet is highly unlikely. Sadly, this isn't the norm and you will find yourself dealing with this evil creature on more than one occasion.
A shelf toilet is a seemingly normal toilet that has a very high shelf located just above the mini-bowl-o-water. It is on this shelf that you do your business. Yes, you read that right. You do your business directly on a shelf. Once you are done, you get the pleasure of staring at your "accomplishment" in its full glory. In answer to my "why on earth" question, I was told it was the best way to check your poo for worms each and every time you went. You know what? I am just not at all convinced an entire society is that mad-keen on checking their poop for parasites. Especially not the "go with the flow" Dutch who won't see a doctor unless their arm has fallen off and all attempts to duct tape it back on themselves have failed. They just don't seem like a society obsessed with wormy poo. Not to the level that special toilets were created just for this purpose. Personally, I think they were rejects from some other country and the Dutch, being know for frugality, did the "waste not want not" routine and bought them at a rather cheap price. In bulk.
I can tell you that no one I know actually does, or at least admits to, checking their movements for actual movement. I do know several people, however, who accidentally scraped their knuckles across the unmentionable as they wiped because darn if that shelf isn't just way too high for comfort. I also know that most of us have had residual issues. As in issues with the residual, because believe you me, no toilet flushes strong or hard enough to remove every bit of business off the shelf in one go. Which brings me to the toilet brush. It will be such a vital tool in going and cleaning up after you go that every private bathroom has at least one next to each and every toilet.
Here is my advice, especially to you germ-o-phobes out there who realize the toilet brush is probably the dirtiest, nastiest, thing on the planet and if there ever is a cholera outbreak it will be linked to that €2.99 piece of plastic sitting in a plastic cup: if you put a thin layer of toilet paper on the shelf before you use it, it will wash away cleanly. Every single time.
You are welcome.
Now let us discuss other things to do while you are in the smallest room in the house. Whether it is fancy or plain, elegant or over-the-top, it will have a calendar in it. Not just any calendar, but a special bathroom calendar. Every one's birthday, regardless of how distantly related they are, will be written on here. It's so you can plan ahead. I find it a bit rude myself. "Uncle Steve? Hi! I was just sitting on the loo and noticed it was your day today. Happy Birthday!" There is no way to hide the fact you were thinking of them while doing #2. Everyone knows that the only place to hang a calendar with birthdays is right opposite a toilet, therefore everyone knows exactly what you were doing when you thought of theirs.
It won't be the most uncomfortable thing, however. That is reserved for the cold. It is a Dutch law, apparently, that all "vay-says" have windows that open to the outdoors, they must be left open at all times but especially when it is snowing outside, and under no circumstances must there ever ever EVER be hot water plumbed into them. Unless I missed something in science class, there really is no reason to not use or even have hot water available. I do know that using ice water to scrub the poo off your knuckles because of the stupid shelf in the toilet is up there with one of the worst experiences of my life. It is very hard to clean thoroughly when your fingers are little cramped blocks of frozen flesh.
Lastly, some advice on double flushers. The little button is a short flush, for #1. The big button is a long flush, for #2. It saves water. It is good for the environment. If you happen to run into someone who has a novel toilet with two equal buttons, or a button that has been sliced down the middle, flush 'em both. Serves them right to have something so darn confusing in the first place.