By Elizabeth Tai
WHO’S afraid of the big, bad toilet? Not Mary Ann Racin, 44, the creator of the popular website, The Bathroom Diaries (www.thebathroomdiaries.com). The website’s mission is to inform netizens about the best place to “do your business” around the world.
Think about it as a travel website, only instead of hotel rooms, readers give reviews of and star ratings to toilets.
Racin, who lives in Virginia, United States, created The Bathroom Diaries in February 2002 after a month-long trip to Paris with her husband and four-year-old daughter.
“My daughter and I visited many bathrooms. Some were wonderful, floor-to-ceiling, well-appointed water closets. Others were old-school Turkish toilets with boot-treads carved to denote foot position.
“If toilets are clean and wellstocked, the public is more likely to be respectful of the space and of those who follow” – Mary Ann Racin
“As I stood with each foot carefully balanced on the prescribed mark, I dreamt of a world in which menus of restrooms were posted in the window along with the bill of fare. Would it be haute cuisine or steak tartare today?” she says, via an e-mail interview.
When she returned to the United States, Racin decided to turn to the Internet to create a website that listed and rated the public restrooms in the world. Word spread about the website and Internet surfers began dropping by to submit reviews of toilets they had visited, from New York to Taveta, Tanzania.
But it’s not just a website of lists. There are “travel essays” where you’ll find many gag-inducing tales about truly nasty toilet experiences. And yes, Malaysian toilets are mentioned – some good experiences, some bad!
According to Racin, the three most popular sections are “the golden plungers” where the nicest toilets in the world are listed; the individual pages on NYC, France and China; and the travel essays.
“Toilet styles are based on national and local cultures. People don’t consider the difference until nature calls, at which point the difference can seem at best, admirable or hilarious, or at worse, depressing and revolting. Those sections are entertaining and illuminating. As the site has grown, it has become useful. Caught short in Manhattan? The site has over 500 restrooms listed,” she explains.
Racin, a mother of two who works part-time as the executive director of a non-profit arts organisation, says that maintaining the website can be a very time-consuming process.
“I want the information on the site to be useful as well as entertaining. Therefore, I do not post information entered by readers without verifying the information and proofing the language. It can get very time-consuming. I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I’m a graphic artist – so it has to look good.”
But Racin’s efforts seem to be worthwhile. The Bathroom Diaries has been mentioned on CNN, the BBC, USA Today and The Washington Post. TechTV called the website, “the best idea ever.”
When asked to name the worst toilet that she has ever used, Racin replies: “There have been so many horrid ones I’ve repressed the memories.”
She believes that there are two reasons why toilets are in deplorable states: The businesses or localities have failed to maintain them and people just fail to be courteous.
“But my philosophy is if toilets are clean and well-stocked, the public is more likely to be respectful of the space and of those who follow,” she says.
A good public toilet, she adds, must, most importantly, be clean. They should also be safe, well stocked with toilet necessities, accessible to the handicapped and have changing tables. “Anyone who changed his/her baby on an airport floor will agree,” she opines.
“I prefer ‘non-touch’ technology and paper towels. Unisex or ‘family’ restrooms are nice for parents with younger children. Fathers might not want their daughters to go into the women’s room alone; yet they don’t want to take them into the men’s room.”
Malaysians may lament about the state of their public toilets, but in America they have their own problems.
“We have very few ‘public’ toilets run by a city or government agencies – most are part of a store, restaurant or gas station. Many businesses clearly state their ‘customers only’ policy for toilets, but others see an opportunity to promote their brand. Some gas station chains now advertise ‘clean restrooms’,” she says.
However, in general, American restrooms offer “at the very least, running water and privacy.”
“Some are sparkling clean, and some are wretched,” she adds.
Well what do you know, awful public restrooms are truly a universal scourge.