Monday, November 21, 2005

The Bathroom Attendant

Dan and I spent Saturday morning shopping at Brussels' version of Kobey's Swap Meet. Had it not been freezing (by "freezing", I mean "32 degrees!"), it probably would have been an ok experience. Numb beyond words, we decided to stop into this little restaurant for some choco chaud (for non-french speakers, hot chocolate). After my cup of chocolate, I headed off to use the bathroom.

The bathroom was down a flight of stairs. There was this older gentleman in front of me, obviously headed toward the bathrooms as well. At the foot of the stairs, was a landing, with a chair and a bathroom attendant. (In Europe, the bathroom attendants actually clean the toilets after each use, unlike the States where the attendants hand out paper towels, mints and have a never-ending supply of haircare products for use!) The attendant (more about her later) pointed the man to the left side of this dividing wall. I, in turn, headed toward the right side of the wall, thinking, ok, the men are on the left of the wall, the women on the right.

The right side of the bathroom had 3 stall doors. I went to the first one. It would not open. At this point, the bathroom attendant came up behind me. (For a visual, the bathroom attendant was probably close to 80 years old and was maybe 5 foot tall. I would have provided a picture, but for reasons you will soon understand, thought it better not to bother her.) She started saying something to me in French (possibly), to which I responded, "je ne parle pas francais." She started talking louder. I tried it again in English, "Sorry, but I don't speak French," and I headed to the second stall door.

Now, I don't know if it is because I have a horrible ear for the French language, or if it had more to do with the fact that the attendant did not have a SINGLE tooth in her head, but I could have sworn I heard her say "talk to me." I thought, ok, this is a little bizarre, but here it goes. I then proceeded to embark on what I deemed to be appropriate bathroom chatter: "Do I have to knock?" "Do I push the doors or pull?" Interestingly, with each question I asked, her voice got higher and higher as she kept repeating the same incomprehensible phrase over and over again. It is very fair to say that she was shouting at this point.

Since the conversation was going nowhere, except up in volume, I started toward the third door. Now, I don't know what lies behind door number 3, but it must be awfully special to her because just as my hand touched the doorknob, she grabbed me by the elbow (with what I mistakenly thought, at the time, was with all her strength), screaming this same word. It was then, that I realized, she was saying "occupee" ("occupied" for us non-French speakers!).

The toothless, screaming, little old lady then dragged me back to the start of the dividing wall (my elbow still clutched in her freakishly strong hands). In a somewhat surprise turn of events, she then pushed me into the men's side of the bathroom. (There is no question that it was the "men's side", as the older gentleman, who apparently had a prostate problem, was still using the urinals to my left.) The lady let go of my elbow, only to place both of her man-hands in the middle of my back, where she pushed (with what I, again, mistakenly, thought must be all her might) me forward. What I would not have given at this point to be able to say in French, or whatever language she happened to be using, "No, please don't make me go in the urinals. I'll wait for one of the women's stalls to open. Please. I'm sorry I tried Door Number 3!"

I now know how Max must have felt when I tried to shove him into the front of the cat carrier. With all of my might, I was pushing backwards, while she was pushing me forward. (It was apparent that her might was going to win out!) At the point when using violence as a possibility crept into my mind, I realized that there was a door at the end of the urinals. (While it may be easy to spot in the photo, please remember that I was in a very traumatic state as I was being distracted by the men peeing in the urinals, the old lady pushing me toward the urinals, and the thought that French-For-Dummies left out some pretty key phrases in the "basics" section!)

Unlike the doors on the "women's section," this stall door opened with ease. I stepped in, relieved that I was not going to have to fight Toothless over the use of the urinals.

There are no words, in any language, that can describe the fear that gripped me when, I turned and realized that the little old lady had followed me into the stall -- and locked the door behind her! The sitaution had clearly gone from bad to worse. In hindsight, I realize that she was reaching to flush the toilet, but, at the time, it appeared she was trying to slap me. I was ducking and dodging as if I were Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. This went on for awhile, until she was able to finally reach around me and flush the toilet. She looked at me like I was crazy, said something in French (which was most definitely NOT "occupee") and left the stall.

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.


Anonymous Michael Speer said...

Too Damn funny, I was in tears ... I can just see you getting bitch slapped by the toothless attendant ... thanks for making my day

All the best,

Michael Speer

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Susie Nuanez said...

I can always count on you for a good laugh...thanks for not should go back and take her picture : - )

9:51 PM  
Blogger WENDEE said...


4:36 PM  

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