The Curious “Courtesy Flush” Concept

Recently I was in the bathroom of a coffee shop — give me a break, I’m a 58-year-old guy whose bladder capacity for coffee apparently has shrunk to thimble size — when I noticed a sign above the toilet paper roll that stated, in pertinent part:  “If you must go #2, please courtesy flush — DO NOT OVERLOAD TOILET, IT WILL BACK UP!!”

There’s a lot to digest in that one, somewhat menacing sentence.

IMG_7558_2First, apparently “#1” and “#2” references have moved from childhood to the adult world.  I haven’t heard someone use “#1” and “#2” to describe bodily functions since our sons were little boys, and I wouldn’t expect to see them used in a sign in an adult establishment.  But is there really universal understanding of these slang terms in the United States — much less the world?  In France, for example, do parents speak to children of “nombre un” et “nombre deux”?  What would a coffee-loving foreign visitor to our shores make of the sign’s likely baffling statement about “going #2”?

Second, the sign tacitly assumes that there is some element of choice involved in “going #2” in a public bathroom, as if people decide to do so on a whim, or to enjoy a comfortable seat and a rewarding view, rather that in response to an imminent biological imperative.  Retail businesses should understand that no rational person would want to plop down on their public toilet seat unless there is no immediately available private alternative.  In short, people who unfortunately have to “go #2” in a coffee shop bathroom inevitably “must go #2″ this instant — and having avoided disaster no sign is going to discourage them from doing so.

And finally, there is the curious concept of the “courtesy flush,” which is a phrase I’d not heard before.  The context suggests that flushing should proceed in stages, with a dainty-sounding initial “courtesy flush” to be followed by the ultimate, keep-your-fingers-crossed-and-hope-to-avoid-a-clog final flush.  The concept seemingly presupposes an element of bodily control beyond the capability of all but trained ninja warriors, who probably wouldn’t understand the “#2” reference in the first place.  Or perhaps the “courtesy flush” notion asks the user to initially disregard the adage that “no job is finished until the paperwork is done”?

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