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One of the things I miss in London is a certain French pragmatism. Today, I had, once again, a stark reminder of this and for the first time in a long, long time, I missed France.

As part of my job, I have to visit factories and depots in and around London. After one of these visits, which lasted quite some time, I felt the need to go to the ladies. As much as, sometimes, I pretend that I am a mysterious creature, full of charm and wit, I still need to go to the loo. After all, I am only human.

I saw the sign to the ladies, excused myself, went along the dark corridor of the industrial building and eventually try to open the door. Nope. I needed a code. A code! I tried to find fellow female workers but there were none. Only men. I still needed the loo. Bracing myself, I went to see my (male, of course) host and causally asked whether he knew what the code for the ladies was. He looked at me in a funny way and explained that no, he didn’t, and that was the whole point. Apparently, the (very few) ladies working in this unit had complained that their toilets were dirty because, they believed, men were using them. As a result, a programme called “dignity at work” had been launched (you have to admire the Brits for finding such names just to put locks and codes to enter the female loos and keep them clean) and here I was, not able to go to the toilet because of the dignity of some happy few.
I thanked my host with a dignified smile and a now furious need to excuse myself (the explanation was a bit long winded and I had to pretend that I was interested. It is all about good manners here). I managed to find the gents, hoping that they would be empty. They were. I locked myself in one of the cubicles and suddenly felt better. But my relief was short-lived: two guys entered the lavatories and used the urinals. I couldn’t get out. I was mortified. I didn’t move or breathe. I just waited. Eventually, they left. Sigh of relief. But when I opened the door to go back to the corridor, another male worker was on the verge of entering the loo. He looked at me in a funny way. I thought that he was about to say something, so I took immediate action: to avoid an embarrassing explanation, I managed a huge smile and quickly clicked my high heels. It did the trick. He didn’t say anything. To be fair, I ignored his pale attempt of an “excuse me…”
The French way of dealing with this issue would have been to put signs to keep the ladies nice and clean, or to name and shame the men who would have dared entering the ladies.
In this instance, you have got to love the French.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London