Starbucks in Paris. McDonalds in Verona. The Gap in Milan. Coca Cola and Ikea on every continent. A world that grows more corporate, predictable, and monochromatic every day. Everywhere we turn there is a sameness to the food we eat, the books and news we read, the movies and television we watch, and the stores we shop in, as our goods and services are increasingly watered down to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Everywhere, that is, except in the toilets of Europe, the last bastion of the individual craftsperson. In toilette after toilette I encountered the creativity of the human spirit in full flower. The design of toilets; the flushing mechanisms; the washbasins; the soap dispensers; the hand dryers; and even the doors, door locks, and latches displayed the fecundity of human ingenuity over generations and in different societies. Sometimes I stood for minutes marveling at the richness of human inventiveness. Also, I needed the time to figure out what to do. Ah! Here I push a button to flush! There I step on a lever!
In my two weeks in Europe I was privileged to encounter, up close and personal, the Early, Baroque; Classical, Romantic, Modern, Post-Modern, Fauve, and Plastic Eras of the flusher. I hope that at least once in their lifetime every American is afforded a similar opportunity. We shouldn’t feel ashamed about the paucity of bathroom fixture designs in the United States. We are, after all, a young nation. Maybe in time we will develop our own heritage of regional and period toilet designs. We can have competitions, establish museums, and develop programs at universities. Still, it is possible that we will never achieve the richness of culture that is embodied in the European bathroom. But we can try.