Monday, 12th May 2008
The other day I received one of those e-mails that purport to be a joke; one of those mails that take a premise and belabour it to death and beyond.
Actually, I received it seven times from seven different people. For what it’s worth this mail tried to explain the ethos, and the praxis, behind why women go to the restroom in pairs, whether it’s during a lunch, a conference, a film, or any other social activity.
The punch line was that we need a friend to hold our handbag / watch the door / and supply us with tissues as well as company. This, of course, is all too true. But there are other, more salient reasons for this typical jaunt, which have more to do with bonding than carrying a spritz bottle of disinfectant mixed with bleach around given the questionable level of hygiene at some establishments.
Look at it this way. If you are sauntering about the lobby of a hotel, looking for the toilets and also lost, because you’ve never been there before, you will raise an eyebrow or two. Is she drunk? Has she fallen out with her partner? Does she want to be picked up?
Add a friend to this scenario, and immediately an aura of pseudo-purpose will descend about you. You can chat, and surreptitiously eye all the walls and corridor openings for the sign that indicates your ultimate objective. But of course, that is not the real reason why a pair, or sometimes a gaggle, of us, leave our partners alone (if there are any of them present on the occasion) and hie off to the bathrooms. The men assume, sometimes wrongly, that women want to talk about them; but that is not necessarily so.
Not unless there is a new guy in someone’s life… and she’s already chosen the matching set of engagement and wedding rigs she wants. It does not matter whether we work in an office on the factory floor or in a bank – the fact remains that we often feel starved of real girl talk, and the women’s toilet is the place to indulge in it. Friends who are partial to this habit explain that it’s not about sneaking a cigarette away from the prying eyes of one’s mother-in-law. It’s about thrashing the bitch at the office – or sharing the juicy bit of gossip about whose baby Geraldine is carrying – or even the only way to cook octopus stew (i.e. boil the meat in wine to which you would have added a couple of squares of dark chocolate and lots of garlic).
One also goes to the restroom to get advice – on men, clothes, food diets, make-up, interior decoration, and sundry other things- think of it as an equivalent of the hairdresser’s chair, if you’re not choosy. I shudder to think of how many reputations have been shredded inside powder-rooms… by people who then fix their hair and their make-up, and descend upon their erstwhile victims like a ray of sunshine. They kiss air and praise fashion sense, a new hairstyle, or the fake suntan they would just have figuratively exploded into smithereens. Oh, how I love people watching.
The next time you don’t see a pair of legs beneath the door, which nonetheless appears to be locked on the inside, the chances are that one of my friends is inside. She has this endearing habit of squatting on the seat so that people will think the stall is empty – and tittle-tattle away. This is how she has been known to garner what I call her newsletter-fodder. So now you know.
Part of this trend is psychological. You have to pay attention to a presentation; you have to eat; or you have to make small talk. Then there comes a point where you cannot take it any more – you feel the urge to break away. You cannot very well escape home in the middle of an event – so you excuse yourself, and wink at a mate who follows suit. If you are at a party in a familiar house, you can wander into the kitchen and start washing the dishes; but you cannot do that if you don’t know the host well enough. Of course there still remain some of us for whom there is an obvious reason why we would want to use the bathroom.
That is where the aforementioned e-mail comes in. Yes, we do need someone to help us not feel gormless. We do need someone to save us from having to walking across the great expanse of carpet alone, feeling awkward and clumsy. And that is why we would appreciate being allowed to jump the queue, if the rest of you are intent on discussing Gabriella’s trout-pout and Maxine’s taste in toy boys.