International Symbols?

Poland, May 2004

European countries don't bother with euphemisms – something like "Twa-lett?" will usually get you at least sign-language directions to the right place. No confusion about why you'd like to take a bath or have a rest or want a closet with water in it. However, the first time I arrived at the general area I was confused again. No male or female symbols, no "Meski" or "Damski", only a circle and an inverted pyramid! Hmm, this was an interesting test. I guessed right, but I'm still wondering about whether their logic was the same as mine.

We later found that sometimes the pyramid wasn't inverted, as in this photo at the Łańcut Palace,

so maybe it's not as clear in their minds either, and a guidebook pointed out that equally likely wordings are "Dla Panow" and "Dla Pan," which would also have required trial and error. (This did remind me of a similar situation in the U.S.)

One night in a rustic restaurant that served typical, delicious, Polish food, the unisex restroom had a name that was different from any of the above: Wychodek. So I copied it down and later asked our guide what it meant. He and the bus driver both reacted with shock. "Where did you see that?" he demanded. It turned out to mean privy! Another part of the rustic atmosphere, which was lost on us.

Such ruminations were usually only necessary in restaurants. Public facilities had a female attendant, for the men's room also, who would direct you if necessary – and collect the required entry fee. It was usually 1 złoty (25¢), but sometimes it was 50 grosz (half a złoty), and in the popular artists' colony of Kazimierz Dolny, it was 1 złoty 50 grosz. They must have assumed that such a town would attract a wealthier clientele. (Actually, Betty Lou just corrected me – she said that one of her facilities had a male attendant.)

One member of our group, a screenwriter, was told that one of his films had been very popular in Poland. He remarked that all the royalties he'd received from Poland were less than he'd spent in their restrooms.

© Copyright 2004 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved