Saturday, 25 February 2012

Loo confusion

When, a little over a year ago, I arrived for the first time at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, I came quite close to getting into trouble before even getting through Customs by walking brazenly into the ladies' loo, to a chorus of horrified shrieks from the ladies therein.

There are few more cringe-inducing experiences than going into the wrong loo. Even though your chances of actually seeing any untoward body parts are practically nil (at least in the man-walking-into-women's-loo case; in the reverse scenario it's a bit more risky), it is drummed into us from the time we're old enough to walk unaided that the Opposite Sex Toilet is forbidden territory. Having my first contact with the local population of India consist of them screaming at me as I beat a hasty retreat was hardly an auspicious beginning to my relationship with the country I would move to some five months later (something I had no idea of at the time).

I'm not denying my own clumsiness, but there are two mitigating circumstances behind my faux pas. Firstly, I'd just got off a long flight and my body clock was telling me I should have been in bed hours ago. Secondly, the authorities at Delhi airport seem to have gone out of their way to increase the possibility of errors like this occurring.

Context: Delhi's airport is new, and sparkling, and on the whole quite a nice place to spend time (which is fortunate for me since I seem to spend half my life there at the moment). It has gleaming walls, and sculptures, and bright and attractive artwork everywhere. The problem is that the airport authorities have applied this rule of attractiveness to something that should, in my view, only ever be purely functional. Viz: the signs for the loos.

This is what the entrances to the various loos at Delhi Airport look like:

(this was taken with my phone, hence not being great quality...whipping out a big clunky camera in a major airport in a security-sensitive country didn't really strike me as a good idea...)

Now this is all very lovely. Definitely more attractive than your average toilet entrance. And therein lies the problem: to the weary traveler, the pictures on the wall look more like another marketing tool for Incredible India than something telling you where you're supposed to go to relieve yourself. Your brain just doesn't process them as something that contains important information relevant to the task at hand. They don't, in short, look like signs.

The situation is not helped by the choice of male model, either. I mean, no offence to the chap in question, but you'd think that if you were going to use a nice photo of a handsome chap for this particular purpose, you'd choose someone as butch and masculine as you can get. Someone who screams (or preferably roars) "this is a MAN's room where MEN do MANLY things".

Not someone with a baby face and dimples, wearing pink and white, and fingering the beads round his neck. There's a bit of facial fuzz there but it's not helping a lot, to be honest. 

I'm not the only one who has this problem. Pretty much every time I go through the airport there's someone standing uncertainly outside, wondering where the signs are and why those nice marketing posters are positioned right at the entrance to toilets.

Anyway, moral of the story: aesthetically pleasing design is wonderful (and if anyone from Heathrow is reading this, I recommend a visit to Delhi). But when it starts getting in the way of functionality, that's a sign that something's wrong. And of all areas in life where functionality is important, the toilet is pretty damn high on the list.

In my view there's absolutely nothing wrong with the below. And it would save a lot of people some excruciating embarrassment.


aslihan-indiemiddle said...

"this is a MAN's room where MEN do MANLY things"

you literally hit me im still laughing. i dunno why but i imagine this line with marshall eriksen from himym.

Chris said...

Hehe, glad you enjoyed it!

Indian Home Maker said...

Ha ha :) Never thought this confusion was possible!! India has no colour rules for men and women. Very manly men wear pink turbans at weddings :) And pink for shirts is popular amongst men :)

Chris said...

Hehe well I have to admit the colour stuff was more for comic effect than anything else. My main issue with the toilets is that my brain just doesn't interpret those big photographs as signs!

(And I have a couple of pink shirts...but then I'm not exactly macho...)

Indian Home Maker said...

When we were in school, boys joked about the girls' toilet by quoting from Star Wars, as the place 'where no man had never gone before'

This post reminded me of that joke.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra said...

@ Indian Home Maker

Sacrilege!!! STAR TREK not Star Wars!!! and I believe the exact quote was "to BOLDLY go ..... where no man has gone before"

Indian Home Maker said...

LOL Yeah, yeah whatever Star Trek, Star War, Star Dust :D said...

So I am currently at the airport waiting for my flight... I walk out of the cubicle in the ladies to wash my hands and there is a man at the wash basin. Now I know I was in the right place. Seems it is a common mistake. Sheesh

Chris said...

Hahahaha! See, not just me!