When it comes to bathrooms, I've seen my share of the repulsive. At a gargantuan Carnival party in Brazil, I had no choice but to use a restroom where, by the end of the night, the floor was grimy with materials I was pretty sure belonged inside the toilets. In Italy, I once paid a whole Euro to use a public bathroom that literally ended up being a hole in the ground. But nothing compares to the bathroom I came across this past weekend.
On Friday night, I went to see Banda Conmocion perform at La Fonda Permanente on Calle Serrano. The concert was a trombone-swinging, cymbal-spinning fire trap that left me with my hair doused with beer and my blood pumping to the beat of cumbia. Still, what I'll remember most about that night had nothing to do with the music.
While waiting for the band to come on, I got in line for the bathroom. During the several minutes I waited, I noticed that all the women ahead of me were going in in pairs. I figured they were all just really close friends and didn't think anything of it. When it was almost my turn, the woman next to me -- a stranger -- asked if I minded if she went in with me. "There are two toilets," she explained.
"No problem," I replied, wondering why she'd even asked.
Oh, but it was a problem. When we entered the restroom, we were confronted with two side-by-side toilets without any division whatsoever between them.
This apparently posed no problem for my bathroom buddy, who asked if I was feeling OK while blithely going about her business. I silently prayed to be momentarily relieved of my inhibitions, all the while knowing deep down that there was no way it was going to happen.
Who the hell designs a bathroom like this? The only remotely similar thing I've seen was the communal women's restroom at the camp my high school subjected us to at the beginning of freshman year. The stalls had divisions but no doors, which we were told was intended to "take us out of our comfort zones" to prepare us for five days of hauling canoes through mosquito-infested woods. At the time, we could barely imagine anything more scandalous. Little did I know that an even more traumatizing bathroom awaited me a decade down the line.
It strikes me that the process of designing the women's bathroom at La Fonda Permanente could not have included any actual women. If it had, I very much doubt that the final product would have involved two side-by-side toilets with no partition between them.
Then again, the other women in line seemed to have been perfectly content to pee in pairs. Is it a Chilean thing? Or is it just me? Maybe I'm just exceedingly self-conscious when it comes to this type of thing. As an exchange student here in Santiago, I would frequently make the hour-long commute home from judo class without rinsing off first in order to avoid using the showers in the university locker room, which not only were communal but also opened directly into the changing room. My classmates didn't seem to mind much.
Which is why I'm curious. Women, would you use the Fonda Permanente bathroom?
And Sara, how would this W.C. rank in your guide?
Some women consider the bathroom a place of solace, a sanctuary in which to escape a bad date, chat privately with a friend or simply absorb a few moments of calm and quiet. Chilean bathrooms, however, seem to conspire to make this impossible. They are frequently devoid of toilet paper, soap and basic standards of hygiene. It's not just the facilities themselves that can make using the ladies' room harrowing: Women waiting in Chilean bathroom lines can be downright belligerent. If they think someone's been inside for even seconds too long, they have been known to pound on the door and shout an insistent chorus of "Yaaaa po!"s. This is probably because Chilean women's bathrooms -- significantly more so than in the U.S. -- tend to be much too small to meet demand.
So Chile, I ask you: Why can't we just pee in peace?