John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Russians aren't that weird when it comes to using the bathroom, it seems.
This edition of Toilet Tuesday is brought to you by Vladimir Poopin':
A DOUBLE TOILET THAT WASN'T
Last week, the BBC unveiled what appeared to be a strange camaraderie-building attempt at the Sochi Olympics: twin toilets nestled in a single stall, so close their users could reach over and slap high-fives. The perplexing photo, taken by correspondent Steve Rosenberg, whipped up a viral fervor among people amused or horrified by Russia's apparent boob-headedness. "Russia has toilets for the Olympics, but privacy might be a problem," wrote USA Today. "Double-toilet stall in Sochi now held as symbol of Russia's government waste," declared Yahoo! Sports.
In the rush to paint Russians as imbeciles who don't know how to go to the bathroom, however, the truth was likely lost. Over at Vocativ, commode investigator Markham Nolan details all the ways in which the "love-toilet" story is deficient. Like the vertical white line between the toilets, for instance: Its presence suggests that the bowls were originally separated by a divider. And whereas the BBC repeated the claim that there was only one toilet-paper roll for both loos, a less-cropped view of the stall shows evidence of a second tissue-holding fixture on the wall.
Nolan hammers the nail into his case using observations from Russian blogger Sergei Nikita who, "[e]nraged by what he saw as BBC sensationalism," made a personal inspection of the unusual stall a couple days later. What he found was that the bowls had disappeared, swapped out for a row of filing cabinets. That substitution indicated the BBC reporter snapped his notorious photo while the bathroom was in the middle of a renovation. Through his research, Nikita found that to "fulfill a request by those organizing the Games, three of the stadium’s toilets were remodeled. They were actually taking those stalls and toilets apart in order to move them."
But Nolan isn't going to let the story end there – he has some scalding words for those who rushed to judgment on Russia's private quirks:
The toilet was held up by news organizations around the world as evidence of bizarre bathroom behavior on the part of the crazy Russians. The ease with which people were happy to re-run that line, without checking or following up, borders on latent racism....
As in The New York Times line, the mid-refurbishment toilet pic is more symptomatic of the last-minute scramble to get Sochi ready. It points at bad planning and wasted money. (Partitions ain’t cheap, folks, and storage rooms don’t need expensive tiles.)
For those the folks out there actually looking forward to using Russia's bond-forming toilet, don't let this news crush your weird dreams. There is a john where the magical sharing of conversation and bodily noises is possible – it's just not in Sochi, but instead in a certain D.C.-area Indian restaurant.
IN OTHER TOILET NEWS...
• On the media beat, the HuffPo has gathered interviews with people who – retch – choose not to use toilet paper. Savor these grim tales of wiping with ragged T-shirts and an "old flannel blanket," as well as advice on how to battle the dread "stink factor."
• What do you do when you're burdened with $2.7 million in counterfeit poker chips in an Atlantic City casino? One alleged crook's solution: Flush 'em down the crapper. This promptly ruined a poker tournament for 4,800 people.
• Ready to feel like crud over the non-swagness of your personal commode? Here's what hip-hop artist Birdman sits on when he's doing his business, according to an Instagram post he made this weekend: "I always wanted some GOLD TOILETS in my krib shit way to real south beach whts popin house swag RICHGANG STUNNAMAN GOLD ON EVERYTHANG."