Expat Trouble: Encounter With a Toilet Lady

by missfootloose on December 17, 2011 · 17 comments

in And So It Goes, people watching, Serbia

As an expat of the Trailing Spouse Tribe, I sometimes get opportunities to visit  places I wouldn’t have expected to go to. Like Belgrade, Serbia, where I spent a few days once while accompanying my man on a business trip. No, I am not going to give you a tourist travelogue here about the history and geography of the place; you can find that in the guide books or on the Internet. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed eating out in the old Bohemian neighborhood of Skadulija and that Kalemegdan Fortress was interesting.

What I’m telling you here is a tiny tale of terror I experienced while there.  Don’t get excited; it’s not a big story. It popped into my consciousness for reasons I can’t imagine, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

Belgrade locals

I was lazing on a sunny terrace one morning while my man toiled away at a conference. Lady of leisure that I am, I was enjoying a cappuccino and watching the locals. People watching is one of my favorite pastimes. Now the locals in Serbia are not terribly exotic, as you can see on this photo, but I was about to encounter a more memorable character.

The time came when I was in need of the facilities and I went inside the building to find them. Which I did: Left for men, right for ladies. No problem. On my way out I noticed a rather ferocious looking toilet lady sitting at a small table on the men’s side, but there was no one on the ladies’ side. Not processing this correctly, I simply waltzed out.

Only to stop dead in my tracks when a loud barrage of furious words slammed me in the back. It was shocking! And it all sounded so un-lady- like! The language being unknown to me, I did not understand what precisely was being hurled at me, but since the vitriol originated from the toilet lady’s oral cavity, the message was clear: I was meant to pay her for the use of the facilities.

I was tempted to move on because I am not used to being screamed at by toilet ladies, or by anyone else for that matter. But I did not. Being a toilet lady is not the nicest job in the world, and it did look like she could use some new shoes, so I was sure she needed the twenty cents more than I did.

No, these were not really her shoes

I turned and dropped a coin in the saucer and offered her a smile to show her I was full of loving kindness and had not intended to cheat her. She glared back at me.

Well, so it goes. It’s comforting to believe in Karma in such situations.

* * *

Perhaps you have a more riveting tale of being screamed at in some foreign land, or perhaps you’ve had a more gentle encounter with one of the friendlier toilet ladies of this world. Do tell!

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

YTSL December 17, 2011 at 2:54 am

When I think of Belgrade, I think of Yugoslavia and the break up of that country. So suffice to say that I tend to think of worst happenings there than a bad encounter with a toilet lady! Also, yes, I would definitely agree that being a toilet lady is not to have the nicest job in the world!

A couple of weeks ago, I was having trouble at work. In order to calm myself down, I went to the toilet to, among other things, splash some cold water on my face. When I got in there, I found the toilet lady in there having her own work woes. As I told my colleagues upon returning to my desk, it all puts things into perspective… and gets one realizing that one’s work woes really are so minor and less troublesome — and lot is pretty good indeed — compared to that of some others…
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Turkey's For Life December 17, 2011 at 9:27 am

Toilet attendants seem common is just every area of the world apart from the UK and it still always makesme feel uncomfortable, even though we’ve been in Turkey for 8 years. (The toilet ladies are equally ferocious – if not sleeping – in Turkey). Barry was a bit perturbed in Paris once when he went into the urinals section of the gents, only to find an old female toilet attendant sat on a chair in the middle of the room, knitting. 🙂
Julia
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missfootloose December 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

Thanks for the laugh! I would be great to have photo of that situation, knitting toilet lady in urinal section of the gents. Only in Paris! By the way, I’ve never seen toilet attendants in the US either (lots of toilet cleaning ladies, who just move in and out with their buckets in large public places).

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Mireille December 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

Toilet ladies are typical for Europe, have never seen them elsewhere… if I just think about it now…
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Aledys Ver December 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Well, my toilet lady story is similar to yours, only that -I- wasn’t the one yelled at, but my mum. My parents were visiting here in the NL for two months and of course, I took them to Amsterdam a couple of times.
On one of those occasions, we decided to go to the toilet before taking our canal cruise, since we didn’t exactly know how long it would take. We went into the Tourist Office just opposite the train station where there’s also a café in the basement. Both my mum and I went in and apparently my mum was quicker and got out first and not knowing that she had to leave any money behind, she just walked past the toilet lady only to get yelled at in a very thick A’dam accent! Still inside the toilet I could hear what was going on but being still busy in there … there was nothing I could do but yell back at my mum in Spanish (I know, not very lady-like either, but what else was I to do) explaining what she was expected to do.
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Walter Knight December 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm

In the United States I have seen a shoe-shine stand in the restroom, which serves the same purpose of keeping an eye on things. I look forward to getting my boots shined whenever in Reno.

At a cowboy bar, a restroom labeled ‘Men’ pointed the the left. The door to the left was labeled ‘Women’ and pointed to the right. Confused, pressed by time and water pressure, and too drunk to figure it out, of course I barged into the wrong side. The ladies inside did not seem to mind, but I fled anyway.

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Butternut Squash December 18, 2011 at 2:33 am

Somehow seems wrong that a tip should be expected. In Nepal, the toilet attendants get no other pay than what they are tipped so they hold out the money receptacle before you are allowed to enter. However, they always do it with a smile.

I must say, I do prefer the free accommodations in the US and I always thank the attendants for a clean facility.
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Merry December 18, 2011 at 8:46 am

It’s true: we don’t have restroom attendants in the U.S. I do wonder what travelers think about our signs. At a restaurant in Santa Cruz (CA), the visitor desirous of using the facilities was faced with a choice. Two doors, one labeled ‘us’ and the other ‘them’. Turns out both led to single-room toilets.
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missfootloose December 18, 2011 at 9:32 am

I love it! Unfortunaely, humor does not always translate, and it is not always understood to be humor 😉

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Nikki December 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm

This bought back memories of my first trip to Paris. The Ladies toilet was full of both men and women and no one but me seemed surprised. It turns out the mens was closed so it was not just acceptable but expected.
Having come across a few ladies toilets that were closed or where were lines of people waiting that were not two times, but ten times longer than the mens, I think the idea has merit.
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GutsyLiving December 20, 2011 at 7:19 am

I have been pleasantly surprised in Paris where things may be changing and the toilet women are becoming less aggressive. I no longer fear them.
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Lady Fi December 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I’ve met those toilet ladies all over the world. I think that being ferocious is compulsory for getting the job… or maybe you just end up like that after a while?
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Helen Ginger December 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I’ve never heard of a toilet lady. If it hadn’t been rather scary, it would have seemed funny. I’m glad you knew what to do. I would have been totally flummoxed.
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missfootloose December 23, 2011 at 9:57 am

Toilet ladies (or washroom attendants) are not a feature of American public restrooms. You see them in some places in Europe. They keep the place clean and get (part of) their pay from tips or payment from customers. They’ll sit at a small table with a saucer, usually.

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bettyl December 23, 2011 at 1:21 am

I don’t have any great toilet stories except for the little girl in the stall with Mom who yelled, “Wow! That’s a big stinky!”

Merry Christmas to you and yours!
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missfootloose December 23, 2011 at 9:53 am

The things kids say! This reminds me, there are books out there with entire collections of the pearls children say in school, at home, in the shops, at the doctor’s office. Thanks for the laugh!

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Michael December 24, 2011 at 2:51 am

We don’t have toilet ladies in Australia and I found my first encounter with one in Italy rather unpleasant and confronting as well.
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