When I was at immigration the other day, I felt the call and went to the ladies’ room. I don’t know what happens in the gents’, but in the ladies’, we generally nod or half smile as one of us exits a stall and another enters. It’s a kind of ‘the coast is clear’ message and it seems to be universal. Proceed with caution of if a woman avoids eye contact and resolutely studies her shoes as she exits.
When I got to the front of the line, a lady came out of a stall and I had my half-smile at the ready. But as the corners of my lips lifted, she reached out and clasped my arm.
“What sort of ladies’ room oddness is this?” I wondered. We may acknowledge each other’s existence; we do not touch.
“I’m so sorry!” she said.
Slightly alarmed, I thought, “Whatever mess you made in there, lady, I don’t really want to know, but thanks for the heads-up.”
She persisted. “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet.”
She was around my own age. Judging from her coloring and accent I would guess she was from India. The genuinely distressed expression on her face told me her story in a flash: “I do not want anyone, not even a total stranger, to think I am some sort of third world yokel hayseed who doesn’t know that you’re supposed to flush the toilet.”
Kudos to her for her courage. She could have studied her shoes and walked away.
I peered into the stall and saw the flushing mechanism. It had seen that kind before, possibly on my last visit to immigration. It was a button on the wall with a lever covering it. You press the lever which in turn presses the button, which I did. Whoosh! The woman smiled and heaved a sigh of relief as she walked away, head held high.
I think the whole thing made an impression because Japan is so very fond of rules. Just yesterday, I used the ladies’ at a public library. The walls of the stall were carpeted with reams of instructions on how and when to use the toilet, including DO NOT FLUSH DIAPERS, MAGAZINES OR CELL PHONES.
I kid you not.
Japan takes toilet technology very seriously. I have found myself standing in the stall, scratching my chin and wondering how to flush. And more than once other distressed ladies have asked for my help finding the elusive flush button.
Therefore, in consideration of my current visa conundrum, I propose the creation of a new visa category: Toilet Flush Advisory Specialist. I am clearly qualified as well as willing and able to share my expertise. I have extensive experience with all manner of stalls, from spiffy hotels with glistening fixtures to nasty holes in the floor covered with footprints and other unpleasantness. [These are nostalgically referred to as KKK–Kusai (smelly), Kitanai (dirty), Kurai (dark). See? I know my stuff.] On pain of deportation, I promise I will always clean up my own messes and never steal the toilet paper.
Now could someone help me find the Suggestions box?