As I stood in line to pee (had to ponder which word to call the “facilities” and decided to skip it entirely–didn’t want to alienate the Canadians, Brits, Irish and Antipodeans) at Berns, a posh night club venue in Stockholm, for the first ever comedy for the International Comedy Night (sheesh, that’s a long sentence –oops not done yet) I reflected that the experience reflects Stockholm and Sweden in a surreal microcosm.
First. The facilities (that term seems to be neutral enough) were for both men and women. True equality of the sexes, everybody had to stand in line. The only time I shared the facilities with men in Boston I was kicked out immediately thereafter.
Second. No one talked. Lines for Boston bathrooms (and that’s exclusively for women since there’s never a line for the men ) are the place everyone talks. If it isn’t idle talk there’s bathroom line solidarity where women make pacts to get in and out and quickly as possible knowing that several women are uncomfortably shifting from leg to leg. That solidarity is often strengthened by the emergence of 3 women leisurely exiting a room-sized bathroom. In this line the men in suits (for some reason there were only men which I mistakenly thought would mean a short wait) stood in silence. In very Stockholm fashion 3 of them were texting (better known as “sms-ing” in Swedish.)
Third. No confrontation. Since there were a good number of stalls (though in Swedish fashion the walls are all the way to the floor so you can’t see if there are legs regardless of which direction they might be pointing) I was unpleasantly surprised by how slow the turnover was going. When it was finally “my turn” and I walked to the end of the stall hallway for the newly emptied handicapped toilet (so why are they making the people in a wheelchair go all the way to the end of a narrow aisle anyway?) I tried all the doors that were closed but didn’t have a red dot on the lock. Sure enough there were 3 empty stalls no one had dared try while waiting for an open door. If anyone had had the thought they realized that by stepping ahead of the person in front of you to check the doors would have been taken as a passive form of confrontation (skipping the line isn’t popular).
Fourth. There was an escape ladder in my stall. OK. That’s not really indicative of anything Swedish or Stockholm but it did amaze me. First I thought it was a very designed towel rack (that would have been very fashionably Swedish) then I joked to myself that it was an escape ladder and when I looked up to see the emergency exit sign I realized that it was indeed meant for escaping during an emergency. (So why in the stall where people in wheelchairs are required to go?)
Finally. A diaper changing station in a nightclub. Here we are on the floor level of the hip club and there’s a diaper changing station (yay for parents but like who is likely to be bringing an infant in there?) However, how very unSwedish of them to have stuck it in the handicap stall. I guess it’s rather Stockholmish of them to not want to infringe on the green granite sleekness of the sink area of the facilities.
I used the facilities a final time before I left Berns. There was a man and a woman standing in line (and talking to each other –so there goes those stereotypes I just wrote about.) From the last time I was pretty sure several of the stalls were empty so I went ahead of them while asking if anyone had checked if the closed stalls were all indeed occupied. I was then told by the guy (there goes that non-confrontational stereotype now) where the line formed. As I found my first empty stall I tried to show him how there were several available and that none of us had to stand in line (trying to bring some of that Boston bathroom solidarity to Stockholm -fail) but it seemed to fall flat on deaf ears. Since there were clearly more stalls empty than there were people in line I just used the 3rd empty stall I found. When I came out…
The two people were still waiting.