Pay toilet at King's Cross Station

This is a pay toilet at King’s Cross Station.

Briefly before departing for London, I’d heard tell of the legendary “Pay Toilet” and today I got the chance to give one a go (lucky me!) It was fairly cheap at 30 pence and had a plethora of change machines in the immediate vicinity just in case you had to “go” and were cursed with being a particularly rich person with a penchant for carrying exclusively large bills. There was a little spinning bar to keep out the poor pee-ers and an honest to goodness bathroom guard standing at the little gates. It was all very official. This is one example of some of the strange bathroom culture that London offers, not that I go around asking “tell me more about your toilets” or anything. I swear. I only did it once.

Seriously though, for a city so saturated with foot traffic and fast food, accessible public toilets are few and far between. I wouldn’t really call it culture shock… more like culture concern. For instance, today we visited several big name department stores packed with absurd amounts of people. Much of the experience was spent jostling strangers and trying to stay Minnesota nice in the face of sharp elbows and shopping fever. After some 40 minutes of being knocked about and trying to avoid internal injuries, I found myself in an endless checkout line waiting to pay. I asked the teller where to find a restroom in the labyrinth of blouses and was directed across and down the street to either a KFC or a McDonalds. Nothing closer. I always wonder, in situations like that, where the heck do the employees go? And what can I say to convince them that I deserve access to the hidden VIP lavatory that must exist through some hidden wall or trap door?

In any case, I made my way to the KFC and found a line about 20 ladies long waiting for the two out of six functioning stalls. To no one’s surprise, the men’s line was nonexistent. A phenomenon that will be eternally be a mystery to me. In any case, London, one of the most interesting cities in the world for history and culture, seriously needs to figure out how to cater to one of the most basic human functions. I mean honestly now, I’m all for adventure but needing a map, a compass and a globe to find a stall is less than convenient.

–Sophie Kaplan