What do Polite People Say, When They Say “Bathroom”?

How Gleaming Bathrooms Built an Innovation

By Shlomo  Maital

“spend a penny”

  How do you say “bathroom”, if you’re very polite, delicate, discreet and don’t actually want to use the B-word?   In Britain, you could say, I’m going to spend a penny, because that’s what it once cost to use a public toilet (see picture).  Today it will cost you 30 pence.. is that inflation, or what?   Or you could say, I need to go to the lou…or the WC  (Water Closet).   Or, I’m going to powder my nose,  if you are female.  Or, I’m going to the little girl’s room…  The list is endless.

    But bathrooms are serious!   Here is a story I heard, from a very senior academician, here in Kaunas, Lithuania, where my wife and I are attending a school psychology conference. 

     Many years ago,  universities were launched to enroll young Lithuanian men who sought to avoid  military service.  [Lithuania was the first Soviet satellite to gain its independence, in March 1990; other countries like Poland quickly followed suit.  The USSR sent troops, but they gave up and finally left in 1993]. 

     Someone had a brilliant idea that young Lithuanian women too wanted and needed to go to college, and started a college for women only.  He suffered ridicule (“Geisha University”, and worse), but persevered.  Faculty were brought from outside Lithuania, many of them women.

   How do you attract, and keep senior female faculty, in Lithuania, at a time when it was relatively poor?  Where do you invest your resources?

    Bathrooms, under the Soviets, were utterly disastrous.  And let’s be honest, bathrooms matter to women especially, because of, well, anatomical issues.  I’ve known women to suffer in order to wait to get to a clean decent bathroom. 

    So, this innovative Dean invested his resources in – gleaming beautiful lovely modern bathrooms.  Honest!   And it mattered. It was the first thing visiting female faculty noticed.  A very small detail, but a crucial one.  He had the most beautiful bathrooms in Lithuania.  And by doing so, communicated to his visitors that he understood them and would do everything to make their stay pleasant.

    God is in the details, especially when it comes to innovation.  Keep this in mind the next time you visit an unworthy bathroom. 

Advertisements