I recently had an opportunity to grace a public bathroom. Upon entering, I was welcomed by a stench left by a previous visitor from some time earlier. Holding my breath for as long as I humanly could, I promptly took care of my business (a number one affair.) As the last few drops completed their journey onto the waters of the great unknown, someone tried to open the locked door. Realizing the little room was taken, they let go, but in my mind’s eye I could see them waiting anxiously outside. “Oh boy,” I thought with a little horror, “Once I vacate these premises and the next brief-term tenant comes in, they will smell the odor left by someone other than me, and think that I am the source.” A feeling of discomfort took over. When I ultimately came out, hoping there will be no one waiting outside, there she was; a small woman, with a sharp lurking stare. I lowered my gaze, feeling somewhat guilty, and quickly took off, like a murderer fleeing a crime scene.
Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little, describing the feelings involved; writers tend to do that for enhanced dramatic effect, but still, that episode left me wondering why. Why should I feel embarrassed? Embarrassed for an act I didn’t even commit; self-conscious in front of a person I do not know and am unlikely to ever meet again? It’s very curious. Is it possible that I care so much about what others think about me? Including a complete stranger standing by a public bathroom? I wrecked my brain – the little I have left, about this, and came up with a conclusion that it might have to do with social conditioning of right and wrong. While burping by a dinner table, covering one’s mouth and saying “excuse me,” is socially acceptable, farting loud and smelly in that same setup, and apologizing for it aftereffect, would win us a critical frown. We seem to find acceptable sounds coming from the mouth, but not so much if these arrive from the other end of the food canal. That is understandable. Yet, we all have gas trapped in the body’s processing plant. And, believe it or not, on occasion, the brown package we deposit in the toilets may also stinks. For some reason we find those incidents unacceptable. After all, our shit should not smell.
Or, maybe, it is a cultural tradition. I understand that in mainland China, there are plenty of areas where farting in public (as well as nose picking, spitting and the likes,) is considered perfectly acceptable. Coming to think about it, quite a few pubs in the USA and elsewhere in the Western world, abide by that same Communist ideology. But that is a different matter altogether.
The views about this Chinese approach to public display of such acts, varies. Some believe it is a show of ignorance, and lack of respect for hygiene, while others claim it shows a more advanced culture; where there is an understanding that holding basic body functions within, is unhealthy.
Or, maybe, all this stems from our primate days; a time when our noses were designed to warn us against camping by a site used by others as a natural lavatory. And thus, to date, those instincts are still active within us, even if our environment had changed; we still feel uncomfortable with the idea of what that smell of excrement represents. It is probably why perfume designers avoid marketing scents such as Nature’s Dung…
Or, maybe, it is simply that when we leave something behind us, anything that comes out of us, in our possessive mind, we still associate it with us, even if it is just body waste? Thus, if it doesn’t smell good, we suspect it would serve as a bad reflection upon us. Perhaps if my poop would have smelled like, say, lavender, I would have left the toilets with a smile of pride on my face; “Yes!” I would have announced, “Take a deep breath – I created that!”
Learned from: a visit to a public bathroom