A Looooong, Lonely Walk


About 10 years ago Bob, a co-worker of mine at the truck manufacturing company, told me about a surprise he had when on a business trip to one of our company’s suppliers in another country.

The office area of the company was just one very large room full of workers at desks.  No partitions or individual offices.  Everybody could see and hear everything everyone else said and did.  All there was other than that was a small reception area with a few chairs and a receptionist at the end of the room where you entered.  And a meeting room and restroom at the other end of the room. 

Bob said the first thing that struck him was the lack of privacy … no one, no matter how high an officer in the company, could make a call or say a word to a co-worker without everyone around them hearing. 

And it soon became apparent that there was another activity that everyone knew alot about too, because there was no toilet paper in the restroom

Everyone, including visitors like Bob who were in a meeting in the conference room, if you thought you were going to need it, had to walk allll the way to the other end of the room to get the roll of toilet paper from the receptionist, and then walk allll the way back through the room carrying it with you to the restroom.  And, of course, when you were done with it you had to make the trip again to return it.  (Hmmm. I wonder what happened if you used up the roll?  Do you suppose you had to take the empty tube back to the receptionist?  Or, at least had to go back to explain why you weren’t returning the roll?!) 

I think several things probably made this especially awkward for Bob.  He is very tall and the people in the country he was visiting tend to be short, so any time he walked through the room, he really stood out.  And also, he was in his sixties when this happened, so he is from a generation that is not used to having their “business” known by everyone.  So, I’m sure this was a verrrrry long walk for him to make.  Although, he does have a great sense of humor, so he enjoyed telling the story when he returned home.

Moral of this story:  Be thankful for the little things …  like toilet paper in restrooms.


Another post on the subject of restrooms that you might enjoy is It’s Not Always Easy Being Grandpa about grandpas and the dilemma of taking granddaughters to the rest room in public places.

11 Responses to A Looooong, Lonely Walk

  1. C says:

    Oh, my! I just don’t know what to say…Edwart T. Hall wrote a fascinating series of books on the differences in cultural norms. And they are remarkable. I remember him recounting the fact that in some south American countries, you can meet and do business with a CEO in a large corp. and then you might just want to hang around in his office to see what else he had on his plate that morning! Privacy just was not done. But this toilet paper thing, well, that takes the cake! (Might put the Hall books on my review list…) C

  2. Sandra says:

    C — I have heard many accounts over the years of differences in attitudes and habits in other countries, but I always especially enjoyed this one because it was such a great mental picture. 🙂

    btw, this was Mexico, so maybe they have the same attitude there about privacy that you read about South American countries.

  3. Tabor says:

    I have heard stories like these but never had to work that way! When you are poor you sometimes think you need more control than necessary. I actually worked for a government organization overseas that said it was spending too much money on toilet paper and made people bring their own! Thanks for stopping by by way of Hillary.

  4. Sandra says:

    Tabor — I suppose the over supervising of the toilet paper supply IS probably a sign of a poor culture, because maybe people were taking it home with them.

  5. Sam says:

    This is hilarious. The funny thing is that, often the people in the places we visit are aware of how awkward and embarrassing this can be for us. They take it in stride, but know that we find it challenging. Sometimes, I am certain, we are the object of funny stories they tell about us silly Americans. Thanks, Sandy!

  6. carlahoag says:

    One of my friends is from Mexico and she told me that when her mother was in the hospital, she had to take her own sheets, towels, pillow, etc…And the showers were cold water. A bit off-topic from the t.p., but still…

  7. carlahoag says:

    About foreign office spaces, about 11 years ago my husband and I were in England for almost 7 months for his job assignment. Work habits were very different.

    The office hours were supposed to be from 8:00 – 5:00. We had no car, so he rode the bus to work, arriving shortly before 8, at which time it’s still dark in the winter. The locals didn’t arrive until about 9-9:30. They took at least an hour for lunch. It started getting dark again about 3, and they were all gone by 4. He rode the bus home again at 5.

    All long tables in the office, no cubicles or privacy. One of the locals hung up a nude calendar (must’ve been by a wall). That was okay, but I did see where they are prohibited from having a ceramic pig on their desks.

    However, the bathroom amenities (hand lotion, tissues, etc.)were very, very nice.

  8. Sandra says:

    Sam — You’re absolutely right. I’m sure they were all watching “the silly American” at least out of the corner of their eye to see if he was embarrassed. 🙂

    Carla — That is amazing. I guess Bob was fortunate he just needed to use the bathroom, not have to have an operation!

    I’m truly shocked at the work habits you portray in that English office. I’ve always assumed that at least the English have a work ethic similar to ours.

  9. carlahoag says:

    This is going to sound crazy to a lot of people, but I was so disappointed in England. I’d wanted to go my whole life. I thought it would be like America, except quaint. The culture is very, very different. On the whole, America is … not exactly despised, but maybe held in disdain is a better phrase. Americans were criticized on tv all the time in a very snide way.

    Depending on the government to solve problems was a huge difference between our two countries. For everything. I remember one man on television complaining that the walls in their apartment building were too thin and he could hear the neighbors dishwasher running. He wanted to know what the government was going to do about it.

    We share a common heritage but it diverged several hundred years ago, and theirs took a sharp socialist turn after WWII. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way they survived the war and the sacrifices they made.

    Actually, with a few exceptions the nicest people to us were that WWII generation.

  10. Sandra says:

    What a dissapointment for you, Carla. It’s such a shame that the experiences we have personally with a certain culture, by nature, set the tone for how we feel about the whole culture. It makes me shiver to think how some Americans are influencing other countries’ opinions of us!

    • carlahoag says:

      Sandra, I hesitated before posting that about England, because I thought you might have some British readers and I didn’t want them to be offended. But the experience was true. My expectations were perhaps silly, because I thought it would be all Agatha Christie/Miss Read-like. Villagey and all that. And there is some of that, but not much where we were. I discounted the modern accounts of England given by the current television imports because I don’t believe that Hollywood gives anything like a true picture of America, so I hoped the reverse was through.

      The old people were really nice to us. British people don’t usually talk to strangers, but I’d strike up conversations on the bus or elsewhere and then they’d open up and were quite nice. And young people (children and young teenagers) were quite friendly. Maybe those in the established adult years think they’re too busy or something, I don’t know; maybe they really just don’t like America.

      We made friends with a few families that we stay in contact with and they are precious people.

      Maybe I should’ve said that the general cultural differences were what startled me.

      As for the ugly American thing, I only encountered it once and it was so stereotypical, that it was hard to not laugh. We were on a London tour-bus and this couple from Arizona got on. They were in their late 30’s, she was wearing a fur coat and they were Loud! Not necessarily rude, but real caricatures of the American tourist.

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