‘You shouldn’t have to pay to get well!’ Those words make me grind my teeth every time I hear them. And I hear them a lot. Someone in the crowd shouted it out during ‘Audience Viewpoint’ at a Crowded House concert and they made it onto the live album. The retort, ‘well, try harder to stay healthy,’ always jumps to my lips, but I know it’s not that simple and I’m not going to debate the ethics of medicine in this blog. The purpose of this segment is to talk about Belgian toilets and I’m sure you’re wondering at the link.
Here it is. Belgium is a socialist country. Fifty percent of my salary goes to the various governments. Then those governments take 22% of everything I spend. Much of this goes to maintaining a robust healthcare system, supported by a caring social security system. I don’t have to pay to get well. Why then, in such a socialist country, do I have to pay to go to the toilet?
Imagine yourself in everyday situations. You arrive back in Brussels after a long train journey. You come out of a 2 hour movie and dump your large coke in the bin. You have a few drinks watching a jazz concert in the Grand Place. You’re on your way home after a big night out. You need to take a leak. It happens to everyone at least a few times each day. You can’t stop it by eating better or exercising more. You can’t stop it by being nice to people or reading more books. You can’t stop it by thinking holy thoughts. So why would the governments make you pay a 30 cent tax on it?
‘Because then they can afford to keep them cleaner,’ I’m told. Bollocks! I’ve been into some pretty bad public toilets in Australia, but I’ve seen just as bad in Belgium. And on average, I haven’t found much difference between them. I have to admit that I haven’t used many in Belgium, though. Thirty cents isn’t much, but I’m against paying in principle. It seems I’m not the only one to feel this way. Much of Brussels smells like an unaired urinal. I had assumed that most of this happened at night, but today I saw a girl lift her skirt behind the Bourse. She was in the centre of town in broad daylight. The resulting delta on the footpath was a good stride wide, even with my legs, but the locals and tourists alike ignored the girl and casually stepped across.
Even out of the city, you’re made to pay. There’s a port-a-loo next to my local tram stop, probably to encourage the drunks not to water the plants at the stop. Unfortunately, this port-a-loo won’t open for less than 30 cents. I wouldn’t be surprised if it required exact change. Come on Belgium. Is it cheaper to clean the walls and gardens than to clean the toilets?
And perhaps it is. There’s something strange about the design of toilets in Belgium. I’ve never seen toilets that use so much water, so violently, to so little effect. The pool at the bottom seems to be set further forward than most people sit. I can’t imagine that Belgians are so anatomically different or even that they sit on the toilet a different way, so I can only assume that the designers of toilets also run the cleaning services. I’ve never been into a toilet here that didn’t have a stain (or something more solid) on the slope at the back. And no amount of flushing is going to get it off because the flush rushes around the dregs to set up a massive standing wave at the front where it does no good – no matter how much it splashes onto my shoes.
Belgium is worth a visit. You’ll love the people, the sights, the food and the beer, but bring your own poop-a-scoop.