The World Turned Upside Down

July 17, 2010 at 2:17 am (By Theo Boehm) (, , , )

Global-squalor campaigners seem to have have scored another victory in Rochdale in the UK.  (The town was made famous last year when pensioner and longtime resident Gillian Duffy voiced her concern over immigration to then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and was dismissed by Brown as a “bigoted woman.”)

In the name of un-Duffy-like cultural sensitivity, managers at the local shopping centre decided to install several squat toilets, otherwise known as a Turkish toilet or Nile Pan.  These have been the stuff of nightmares to generations of Anglo-Saxon tourists at French and Italian train stations, not to mention many other plumbing-challenged spots around the globe.

The Mail story quotes Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, as saying, “We in Britain are rightly proud of our toilets, and the onus is on people who come to this country to appreciate them for what they are….It’s absolutely ludicrous – Thomas Crapper would be turning in his grave!”

The article also mentions Mike Bone, of the British Toilet Association, who warned the washing facilities associated with squat toilets could pose a hygiene hazard. “We really don’t see a need for them,” he said.

Of course, we in the US have been reminded now for 40 years that we really shouldn’t see a need for ordinary flush toilets, either. It’s said that flush toilets are environmentally unsustainable, mostly because they waste water.  The British, green as they may be, seem to have fewer complaints of this.  Water falling from the sky on a daily basis has rendered them less anxious over its availability than we in our more parched climes.  As Dr. Johnson said, an Englishman “has more frequent need to solicit rather than exclude the sun.”  But we know too well an over-familiar acquaintance with that celestial body has its costs.

The damp British climate gave rise to the flush toilet—the earliest may go back to Elizabethan times—and the classic British loo, formerly viewed in many parts of the world as so many phenomena.  But flush toilets are now seen by environmentalists as wasteful and irresponsible. The more historically-minded may regard them as expressions of British plumbing imperialism, suited only to their rain-soaked home islands.

That said, I had a lesson in how attached the British are to their well-functioning toilets last time I was in Paris.  Coming out of the toilets near Sainte-Chapelle, one elderly English lady turned to another and said, “Those worked quite well, didn’t they?” The other replied, “Yes, one appreciates a Good Flush!”

I could barely contain myself, but realised later that I had a lesson in cultural sensitivity at least as great as that learnt by the managers of the Rochdale Shopping Centre. They ought to have known, given our own experiences here in the US with low-flow and other environmentally correct but miserable toilets, that a people inured to a Good Flush do not willingly give it up.

ADDED: There’ll always be an England: Thos. Crapper & Co., Ltd. are trading again!

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