Ever since I can remember I have been introduced to new homes the same way. I would arrive at the house and the homeowner would give me a little tour. Here is the kitchen, here is the bathroom, the living room, the guest room, etc. It didn't matter what the occasion was a party for one of my parents' friends, a first time sleepover at a friend from school's house, whatever the initial introduction to the house always followed the same pattern.
Now that I'm older, the process hasn't changed, except people now like to also point out all the ways in which their house or apartment is better than mine: here's my new 60" plasma, here's the guest pool if you want to swim, this is my wine cellar, etc. But there is one thing lacking in the standard house tour that I first noticed as a little kid. I was always secretly hoping that it would change when I got older, that it was too taboo a subject for an adult to speak to a child about, but that adults freely dispensed such information. Sadly, this is not the case. I am speaking, of course, about toilet operation.
I am all for variety. I love that I can choose between twenty-five kinds of peanut butter at the grocery store and watch softcore porn on Cinemax in nine different languages, but one place I don't need so much choice is in toilet flushing. It's as if the toilet manufacturers of the world are each convinced that their flushing operation is superior. "NO!" shouts Kohler, "holding the handle down for three seconds is the superior way to flush!"
"You fool," counters American Standard, "a little push followed by a delayed flush is the best!"
"Nonsense!" screams Bemis, "A hard push, followed by a bubbling gurgle and a slow flush is the ONLY way Americans want their toilets to work!"
This leaves you, the consumer, with a myriad of potential flushing options when it comes time to relieve yourself and, of course, the possibility that you won't be able to figure it out. This has been the case more times than I care to remember.
The first time I ran into this problem was as a little kid sleeping over at my friend's house. We must have been eating chips and snacks all night because around midnight nature came calling. I did my business and flushed the toilet only to find that the toilet hadn't quite spent enough time with my waste and wanted to keep it around a little longer. I hadn't clogged the toilet, mind you, I just couldn't get it to flush. Not wanting to be embarrassed in front of my friend, I woke up his mom to ask for help. (As a kid, you treat everyone's mom like your own.) To her credit, she was very nice about it, but even as a child I remember feeling ashamed that A) this nice woman had to deal with the results of my snack binge, and B) that I was too stupid to figure out that flushing required holding the handle down until it was all gone.
This scene replayed itself again and again over the years with different actors in the supporting cast: I couldn't figure out the toilet at the family reunion and needed a distant relative's help; I had to call the maintenance crew of the cruise ship to come teach me how to flush the boat toilet; I had to shout through the bathroom door to a girlfriend for instructions. It was just as embarrassing every time and it could have been avoided had teaching guests proper toilet operation been a standard part of showing a guest around the house.
We instruct guests on how to operate malfunctioning toilets, of course "Just jiggle the handle a bit if it's not flushing," but I have never been given instructions on how to operate a functional toilet. Perhaps it is because everyone just assumes that their toilet flushes the "normal" way and that, instinctually, that will be the first method we try. Or maybe homeowners assume that you have the luxury of testing different methods until you figure it out. This, however, is flawed logic because you, the panicked bathroom patron, only have about three attempts before the bowl overflows. What's more likely, though, is that the toilet problem never even crosses a homeowner's mind. After all, who assumes that when a new guest comes by they'll also be leaving a bit of themselves behind? The guest will never ask because, well, who wants to open a conversation with, "Oh, and when I befoul your bathroom later, how do I make sure you don't have to deal with it?"
So we have a reached a standstill, it seems. Guests will not ask how to flush, homeowners do not think to instruct and, until the government forces them to regulate, toilet manufacturers will continue to make life hard on everyone with their custom flushes. The easiest way to remedy the situation would be to put the onus of instruction on the homeowner. Make it part of the home tour: here's the guest room, here is the bathroom, to flush the toilet you have to hold it down until the bowl empties like this (flushes toilet), here's the living room, etc. It would only take a minute and you have saved you and your guest a very embarrassing situation. So, if you come to my apartment for the first time, I will gladly show you how to operate my toilet. You won't even need to ask, either. And then, should nature call during your visit, you will be fully confident using my toilet and, more importantly, I won't have to deal with your shit.