Furious screaming rent the air. It followed me out into the sunny morning: Expat trouble was upon me.
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 do have for you is . . .
A tiny tale of terror
Don’t get excited; it’s not a big story. It popped into my consciousness for reasons I try not to imagine, so I thought I’d share it with you here. Maybe you have an experience with toilet ladies. There’s a tribe of them still around Europe.
I was lazing on a sunny terrace in Belgrade 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. Lucky me, my expat life gives me lots of opportunity to indulge. Now the locals in Serbia are not terribly exotic, or exotic at all, 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 ventured forth inside the building to find them. Which I did: Left for men, right for ladies. Expat trouble comes in many varieties, but fortunately this foreign restroom did not present me with any challenges. 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 into the sunshine.
Only to stop dead in my tracks.
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. However, 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. I turned around and went back inside.
My Better Self emerged from its hiding place
The woman gave me a nasty look. It occurred to me that the job of toilet lady is not the most lusted-after career in the world, status wise or financially. It did look like she could use some new shoes, so I was sure she needed the twenty cents more than I did. I was suddenly overwhelmed with guilt for having good shoes and a pocket full of change and a happy life. And I wondered in what kind of place she lived and if, when she came home, there was anyone there who loved her.
No, these were not really her shoes
I dropped some coins 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. And in reincarnation. I hope in her next life she will be happy, have a rewarding career, a loving husband, and a nice cleaning lady to scrub her toilets.
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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!
Cute. I agree with you that the cultural challenges can be a great source of humour and growth, challenging our narrow assumptions. It’s the whole point of being an expat for me, since I have no husband to follow, just follow my own nose! I just sent my first book (in 36 years!) to the publisher (WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS POEM) and my book of essays on the expat experience is 25% of the way through. Thanks for providing inspiration to a newbie.
Hi Wendy, Glad you enjoyed my tiny tale of terror. I’ve had bigger ones! Living and traveling abroad can offer great inspiration for stories, and I’ve written many. Always happy when people like them. Wishing you success with your writing!
Love your story 🙂 I can relate a lot being Polish (and living elsewhere now) where toilet ladies are an institution. Or definitely were during the 60s and 70s. Everyone respects them, or you won’t get enough of toilet paper for your sitting! But I encountered them also in Spain, equally fierce and never backing down. Can you imagine what the job interview is for this post? 🙂
Hi Daria. Glad you enjoyed my story! Yes, I used to see lots of toilet ladies in my native Holland when I was young — in train stations for instance. No idea what a job interview would be like 😉 Love the upbeat title of your blog: Good Vibes Spreader. My goal for my stories is that they show the fun/humorous side of expat life, which for me was mostly in developing countries. There is enough negativity in the world already!
Couldn’t agree with you more – the world needs upbeat and positive things and vibes now more than ever 🙂 Have just subscribed to your blog to read more about your adventures – I bet we could swap some unreal and amazing stories! Sending you lots of good vibes from English seaside 🙂
We don’t have toilet ladies in Australia and I found my first encounter with one in Italy rather unpleasant and confronting as well.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I love it! Unfortunaely, humor does not always translate, and it is not always understood to be humor 😉
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.
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.
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… Read more »
Toilet ladies are typical for Europe, have never seen them elsewhere… if I just think about it now…
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. 🙂
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).
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… Read more »