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Where is the WC?

picture of wc sign

If you've traveled overseas, especially in Europe, you are probably familiar with the abbreviation WC in public places. The letters stand for water closet (toilet). In Germany I was surprised to see that in some places they use the abbreviation 00 (double zero, or Null-Null in German, Null rhyming with pool). I read somewhere that it began in hotels with numbered rooms — the idea being that 00 would not be confused for a sleeping room. My mind always saw it as the letter "O" twice and I would think "uh-oh!"

Today's iv is the result of subject matters in two of my French classes this week. We just learned about the letter combination WC in my second semester French class yesterday. The initials WC always make me think of a classic bit of humor I first heard as a high schooler. When I asked my class if they had ever heard the story about the Wayside Chapel, I was surprised that only 2 of the 25 students admitted to having heard it before.

In my 17th Century French Literature class we are reading L'Avare (The Miser) by Molière. Some of Molière's comedy is based on quiproquo (from the Latin quid pro quod = something for something, the idea of one thing for another thing) in which a misunderstanding is caused by each person's talking about one thing while the other person is understanding something else. The result can be quite funny, as in today's blog post.

Just so you know before reading this, it is bathroom humor that is as close to the line as I want to get. I think, however, you will enjoy it for its quiproquo comedic qualities.

Where is the WC?

An English schoolteacher was in Switzerland looking for a room to rent in the area where she would begin teaching English the following fall. She asked the schoolmaster if he would recommend any rooms to her. He took her to see several, and she chose one she was certain would meet her needs. When everything was settled, she returned home to make final preparations for the move.

After arriving at home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a "water closet" (toilet) around the place. She immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him where the WC was located. Since the schoolmaster was a poor master of English, he asked the parish priest about the meaning of the letters WC. Their part of Switzerland had small chapels in the countryside that they called wayside chapels, and so the only solution the priest could come up with for the letters was "Wayside Chapel." The schoolmaster then wrote the following note to the English lady inquiring about the location of the WC.

My Dear Madam:

In our part of Switzerland there are not many WC's. I take great pleasure in informing you, though, that there is a WC only nine miles from the house where you will be renting a room. Since you do not own a car, I trust that the distance will not be too great a hardship, especially if you are in the habit of going regularly. It is situated on lovely grounds in the centre of a beautiful grove of pine trees. It has a seating capacity of 229 people and is open not only on Sundays, but also on Thursdays if you find that more convenient. Since there is usually a great number of people there, especially during the summer tourist season, I suggest that you come early in the day, although there is usually plenty of standing room.

I would especially suggest that your ladyship go on Thursdays when there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard by all. For the children, there is a special time and place so that they do not disturb the elders.

It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the WC. It was actually there that she and her husband first met. I can remember the rush there was for seats the day of their wedding. There were ten people to every seat normally occupied by only one. It was wonderful to see the expressions on the faces of all of those present.

The newest addition is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to raise funds for plush seats for all, since the people feel it is a need of longstanding. My wife is rather delicate, so she cannot go regularly. It has been almost a year since she went last, and naturally it pains her greatly not to be able to go more often.

I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, where you can be seen by all each time you go there.

Hoping to have been of some service to you, I remain

The Schoolmaster


I trust that you enjoyed the read. When you are in a foreign country, restrooms can be a daunting challenge. One of the young men on one of our teams to France counted 7 different ways to flush toilets there. Do you have an adventure you'd like to share?


"It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing, when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper." - Rod Serling

=^..^= =^..^=

The best way to forget all your troubles is to wear tight shoes.

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16 Comments on “Where is the WC?”

  1. #1 Bonnijean Marley
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 8:39 am

    The most interesting toilet we saw in Germany was in a rest stop on the Autobahn. We had to pay to enter the stall (a foreign concept to my daughters). Nothing looked unusual till we flushed. Then the seat of the toilet rotated like a hula hoop so the entire surface could be covered with a sanitizing spray. My first thought was that the toilet was morphing. My second thought was to wonder how many time my girls would want to repeat the experience.

  2. #2 Ron
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I remember how enlightening my first exposure to the men’s restrooms at the Frankfort airport was. You have to know that this was some years ago and we Americans were more naive than today. The first thing I noticed out of place when I entered was that there was a woman walking around in the restroom. The next thing I noticed was that there were no urinals but in its place was a line of men doing their business on the wall of all places (don’t forget the woman walking around behind you). And then on the way out there was a table that the men were throwing change (money) on when they left. Needless to say after spending the next 2 years in Germany this and a lot more strange restroom adventures became common place.

  3. #3 Laura
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve heard a slightly different variation of the W.C. story… essentially the same concept, except it was an elderly lady inquiring about a campground in Florida where she was considering spending the winter. She wanted to know about the “B.C.” (bathroom commode) and the campground director mistook her abbreviation to mean the Baptist Church.

  4. #4 Rob
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    @Bonnijean – Thanks for the story from Germany. It reminded my wife and me of the Formule 1 hotels in France where the bathroom on each hall lock and disinfect themselves between each occupant. Wonder if the Germans gave them that idea….

    @Ron – Sounds like my first following of the 00 sign in a German restaurant. The wall situation was disturbing, but what are you going to do. And the woman attendant is a standard fixture in many French public restrooms also.

    @Laura – I had that version in my files. The only problem for me was that the initials W.C. are authentic and in current, widespread use. The B.C. thing didn’t have the same appeal to me. Sorry. 🙂

  5. #5 Ellie Dygert Franklin
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I grew up in Scotland as an MK and I can remember returning to to States after about 6 years on the field and finding the airport restrooms completely foreign. There was no handle for flushing the toilet. After looking around for a few seconds, it flushed by itself!! I was surprised and very impressed. Also, there was no way to turn the water on in the sink! That started when I put my hands under the tap. I’d never been in an automated restroom before. I remember running out to tell my parents all about it! LOL!

  6. #6 Kathleen
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    As a current MK in Scotland, that last comment posted is hilarious! Everything is much more automated now, but there are still the occasional weird experiences.

    Over here, the restrooms are also called the toilets (similar to French), which can also lead to some rather interesting cross-cultural interactions. Another missionary over here sent out an e-mail update to supporters, in which he mentioned that the water in the facility where they were meeting didn’t work, so they had to get water from the public toilets next door. To those of us in the UK, it made perfect sense, but apparently some in the US were somewhat confused….

  7. #7 Jane Horvath
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    The most interesting toilets I have been in were in China where they have squat toilets. When we were on an overnight train trip I used the squat toilet a couple of times and did not realize I was using it backwards. (I will not go into detail on how I finally figured that out.) Thankfully they had some regular toilets in some places.

  8. #8 Carrie
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    I used a squat toilet once in Cambodia — that’s an experience one doesn’t soon forget. And, of course, the Formule 1 experience. I had never been to a hotel that had communal bathrooms in the hallway.

  9. #9 Ann
    on Mar 11th, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Some years back, one of my sisters went on a missions trip to Kosovo. I don’t know if what she encountered is what you are describing or not, Jane. In Kosovo, they didn’t have toilets. There was just a hole in the floor.

  10. #10 Rob
    on Mar 12th, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    @Ellie – I enjoyed reading about your reaction to “Jetson-style” restrooms with everything automated. None of that would work with a power outage. I almost always have a hard time getting the faucets to run on or the paper towel dispensers to work with my motions. I have to work at it so hard that what ends up looking like dancing on my part hardly seems worth it for the “convenience.” 🙂

    @Kathleen – That’s funny! In English “toilet water” (French “eau de toilette”) is something else yet, as you probably know.

    @Jane, Carrie, and Ann – The squat toilets (also called Turkish toilets) are fairly common in France and an absolute standard in China. For those who don’t know what they are here’s a picture:

    picture of toilette turque

    That one is actually quite nice! Many are more rudimentary, and much dirtier. We’ve been in restaurants in France where the ladies’ room has a standard (what we consider standard) toilet, while the men’s room has a Turkish. (Becka and I compared notes afterwards, in case you’re wondering….)

    One of my “funnest” experiences was in one café with a single unisex WC and with the standard light switch on the outside of the room. The light switch was one of the push-button types on a timer, to save energy, I suppose. Well, I had not finished with the room yet, when the light went out. I had to grope for the lock, reach outside to hit the push-button, and hastily close and lock the door to finish up as quickly as I could. Phew! I was glad there was no line outside!

    Jane, it’s too bad they didn’t have the following sign where you visited:

    picture of squat toilet sign

    For people who know how to use only that kind of toilet, the following sign has to be posted:

    picture of no squat toilet sign

    In the university where we taught in China, although the classroom building had computers and ceiling data projectors, there were no lights in the very dark hallways and the toilets were something like these:

    picture of squat toilet trough

    Only ours was about five little stalls with one trough running the length of the stalls. 🙁 And the stalls were separated by short walls over which you could see and be seen by others, like these:

    picture of toilette turque

    I felt kind of like the English school teacher in the Schoolmaster’s “Wayside Chapel” where I could be seen by all….

    Here’s a pretty “upscale” set of Turkish toilets like those we saw in France:

    picture of toilette turque stalls

    Probably more than most would ever want to know about Turkish squat toilets, but hardly worthy of a separate blog post. This just makes this post a tad more complete. 😀

  11. #11 Ann
    on Mar 12th, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for the pictures, Rob! My sister had described the squat toilets, but I had never seen pictures of them.

  12. #12 Rob
    on Mar 12th, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    @Ann – When you have not seen, or better yet used, a squat toilet, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. They are truly not fun when one has diarrhea. Nuff said….

  13. #13 Ann
    on Mar 15th, 2010 at 5:36 am

    I didn’t have to even go out of the states to have “WC” experience! I just had to go out of the “South!” My husband and I took a trip to Erie, PA to go down his “memory lane.” On the way from Erie to our next destination we found that the rest stops were few and far between. When we finally found one, it was a port-a-potty! There was about an inch or two of “liquid” in the bottom. I was ready to get back “South” in a hurry!!

  14. #14 Rob
    on Mar 16th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Oh, yes … port-a-potties. I don’t think I even want to go there … literally. 🙂 I’ve seen them here in the South also, though, so I don’t think they’re a feature unique to the North.

  15. #15 Ann
    on Mar 17th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Ann in Charlotte NC: (It was strange to see “my” name on a comment that wasn’t mine.) Here in Charlotte, the sides of the roads are kept clean by crews from the local jail. The last two times that I’ve seen such crews, the truck they rode in has been towing a trailer on which there was a port-a-john. Gives the term BYOB an entirely new meaning.

  16. #16 Rob
    on Mar 18th, 2010 at 8:09 am

    @Ann in Charlotte NC – BYOB does indeed have a whole new meaning, at least for some….