Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Bathroom: The Room The British Forgot

If there is one room in a British house that is inferior to its North American counter-part, it is the bathroom, or as they call it here (if it has not bath tub), the toilet. I rarely will call something British inferior, but the bathroom truly is. Here is why.

Before you enter the bathroom, in some house, you must turn the light on. This may sound obvious, but in British houses, light switches are either on the outside of the bathroom, or, if they are on the inside, they are a dangling string, hopefully near the door. This is for what the Brits call 'Health and Safety.' Basically the person who thought up this law believes that touching a light switch in the bathroom will put you in mortal danger. They think that you will have a wet hand, and when you touch the switch you will electrocute yourself. I would believe this, except having lived the vast majority of my life in countries and houses with switches INSIDE the bathroom, I have never once heard of this happening.

Once inside you may notice a distinct lack of any kind of storage. Only a few bathrooms I have been in have built in storage, and that is, from my experience, never enough. I have a pedestal sink, which, though lovely to look at, gives no storage. We do have a closet in the bathroom, but it holds the gas water heater, and as such, cannot be used to store anything...legally.

There are no outlets in English bathrooms, aside from those made for electric shavers. I have been told this is for Health and Safety. This makes sense, as I have heard of hundreds of accounts of electrocutions from appliances in bathrooms...actually I have never heard of this. Water-based electrocutions are rare, as Ground Fault Interruptors prevent this. Anyway, if we cannot have normal outlets, why can we have the shaver outlets? Shaver outlet carry the same voltage as normal outlets, AND are never grounded, making them more dangerous than normal outlets. There is no logic in this!

And now we get to the water taps, or was we call them in America, faucets. Many places have a single, mixing tap, like back home. What this means is you have one tap, that lets out water whose temperature you can adjust. For some reason, many sinks and bath tubs in this country have not broken into the 20th century...even when those bathrooms where built in the 21st. My English friends tell me that the allure of this set up is that when one wants hot water, you get it quickly, while with mixing taps you have to wait. This is the ONLY merit of this set up. A merit that does not make up for the fact the when washing your hands you get the choice between ice cold water that makes your joints ache, or scalding water that has your screaming a falsetto note you were not aware you could reach. In my first apartment here, I had no shower, but I did have a bath tub with one hot and one cold tap. Luckily I had a Y-connector that pathetically and temporarily mixed the is one of the main reasons I moved. Basically, the merit (for there is only one) of the two taps is like saying "Sure my car has no engine, but that means it uses no gas!"  Some of my friends say that all you have to do is plug the drain and fill the sink, mixing the water yourself.  However, many places do not have a plug. So you are supposed to....?  

In Bill Bryson's newest book, AT HOME: A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE, he relates a story of a woman who worked as a writer for a woman's magazine in London in the 1950s. She was told that she and the other writers where not allowed to write about bathrooms, as at that time in England, not enough people had bathrooms, and it might cause jealousy among housewives. So I would take this as a reason for the state of many modern English bathrooms, but then why not make changes when you can? If you are renovating your 50+ year old bathroom, why would you put separate taps in, or storage?

Like I said earlier, I do not usually compare English and American things, but this one has been annoying me. Every North American I have asked feels the same way, and many English people who have lived/spent a lot of time in North America as well. There are things here that are vastly superior: gun control, National Health Service, the availability of Indian food, laws that allow for cheap airline flights, people knowing where their food comes from, people who respect their history, ect. I love England, but I do not love the bathroom.

PS Please forgive any spelling errors, I am tired and can't be bothered to re-read and spell check.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to mention the amount of carpet in bathrooms here. It is something I have seen back home but not to the extent I see it here. And to be fair, back home I have never seen it totally encircling a toilet, unlike here, where it does.