Over this very tumultous weekend I discussed with colleagues the correct terms for meal times as well as the right word for toilet, all of which sounds weird (I live a dull life) but it can be fascinating…
Stay with me.
How you refer to either is interesting because it establishes where you are in the class system. Poor people and Northerners (which are pretty much the same) refer to the eating schedule as Breakfast, Dinner and Tea, which is patently ridiculous because dinner is a full-scale affair that happens in the evening. Tea, however, is something you drink with milk and sugar. It’s merely a beverage, Geordie boy.
Then there’s the posh: Breakfast, Lunch and ‘Supper’, which is totally proposterous because supper, let’s face it, is a kebab.
No, the correct schedule is ‘Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner’. Any other description is wrong.
Then there’s the word for the toilet.
Now, this where things get extraodinarily complicated especially when you factor in Americans. As you know Americans can’t handle the truth – just ask Tom Cruise – and the reason we know this is because they choose to refer to places where we carry out our most vulnerable act with such delicacy.
In normal circumstances you go to the toilet to do one of two things: to urinate or to pass a turd. At some point society referred the toilet as the WC – water closet – which is clearly nonsense because if you open the door to a real water closet you’ll get wet.
Thankfully that didn’t last long.
If you’re posh you’ll probably call the place to dispense with your oversized cigar as a ‘lavatory’, but if you are not you’ll call it the ‘toilet’ – the proper term. If you want to be cuddly, you might even call it a ‘loo’. That’s forgiveable.
Americans, though, are a strange bunch. They’ll happily waterboard innocents in Guantanamo Bay but they’ll baulk at the word ‘toilet’. You might as well ask them where the shithouse is.
So in a bid to lovely it up the Yanks have dispensed with straightforward English, insteading opting for ‘Bathroom’ or the even more ridiculous, ‘Restroom’.
I have problems with both. If you wanted to go to a bathroom it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect, well, a bath. I’ve never understood the logic behind this and it’s little fun for first-time visitors to the US who can find toilet-calling etiquette an unforgiving conundrum. Within weeks, or even days, you’ll realise that calling a toilet a ‘toilet’ during a short trip across the pond is a no-no. It’s like saying: ‘I need to take a shit, where can I do this?’
The ‘Restroom’ is entirely misleading. I think that if you choose to visit a ‘restroom’ you would expect to be confronted by a wing-backed chair, a couple of trashy magazines and a nice cup of tea, not a small cubicle with toilet bowl.
I lived in America for six months and found this language barrier an entirely frustrating business. An American confronted by the word ‘toilet’ will recoil with horror like he or she has been played a close-up video of what you are about to do. They’ll expect a retraction, maybe even a full apology, and implore you to refer to the place where ladies powder their nose with something less direct. You’ll try ‘lavatory’ and they’ll lean sideways from what they regard as another verbal broadside. In a desperate attempt to diffuse any more embarrassment they’ll point to the sign saying ‘Restroom’, but if you haven’t fully immersed yourself into the culture you’ll then tell them that, for their information, you don’t want a ‘rest’, you merely want to use a facility where you can park your lunch with some privacy. At this point deportation will become a distinct possibility
Sooner or later you’ll get the hang of this as you travel around the US but then again, if you do want to have some fun and enjoy the sight of an uncomfortable Yank, use the word toilet with gay abandon. Then move on to Dump-Cauldron. Yes, they’ll never let you back in but that’ll surely learn ’em for invading Iraq without a proper UN mandate.
So, let’s tell it like it is: you eat Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and if you want to lay a cable, you’ll do it in a toilet.
I hope that’s clear.