Friday, November 24, 2006

THE FIRST MODERN BATHROOM SYMBOLS


Believe it or not, I'm old enough to remember the first time male and female stick figures were used to designate restrooms. Previous to that the restrooms were labeled with words like "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" or "Seniors" and Senioritas."

I remember the very night I first saw the new symbols. They were on the lavatory doors of a Marie Calander's-type family restaurant that my friend's dad took us to. A bunch of frustrated patrons were gathered outside the restroom doors trying to puzzle out what the signs meant. The consensus was that the bell-shaped, flared stick figure might be a be a girl with a dress but what was the other figure? One lady thought it was a woman wearing a pant suit. Maybe both the bathrooms were for women, one for traditional dress wearers and one for pants-wearing new-agers. Somebody guessed that the the mens' rooms were somewhere on the other side of the building.

Every once in a while a frustrated citizen would knock on the door and if there was no answer he'd cautiously open the door and let himself inside. Everybody waited with baited breath to hear what he was seeing. When he came back with the answer the relieved crowd streamed into the appropriate rooms then ten minutes later a new crowd would form and the whole cycle would start up again.

What everyone in the crowd would have agreed on was that the new symbols were bold and futuristic. We all felt like we were entering restrooms on the starship "Enterprise." I wondered if it meant we'd all be wearing capes and gauntlet gloves and be carrying ray guns soon. It was heady stuff. A real glimpse into the future.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know people have told you this many times, but you sir, are a natural-born storyteller! That's great!

It also reminds me of the time I went to the set of bathrooms on the opposite side of the newspaper building where I worked.

It never occured to me they might've reversed the arrangement, so I walked right into the women's bathroom. I was only in there for about a second before the wrongness of it sent me back outside... unseen, much to my relief.

They had a sofa in there! A sofa!

Max Ward said...

I wonder if this happened all over America that night.

Jorge Garrido said...

HAHAHAHAHA! Hilarious!!

Eddie, it's spelled "Señores" and "Señoritas". "Seniors" means old people, and in English, yet!

What year was this? The 70's?

Also, Eddie, can I forward your sock post around the internet over email? It could one one of those hilarious things that gets passed around.

Jennifer said...

I agree, Uncle Eddie. You are a fantastic story teller. This is one of my favorite stories of yours (along with the story that you told about drawing your daughter drinking a milkshake at a restaurant). Watch out, Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon! Uncle Eddie's Los Angeles Chronicles is the next bestseller.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

-- J

xtracrsP said...

A toilet post? That's a load of shit!

Shawn said...

I was at a Hawaiian restaurant and the doors said "men" and "women" in Hawaiian. I didn't pay much attention and I went into the bathroom to take a whiz. Suddenly I realized that I was surrounded by a flock of angry women (and they looked like they wanted to beat the hell out of me). My face turned beat red. I mumbled, "Um, I think I'm in the wrong bathroom". One lady said, "YES, I THINK YOU ARE!!!" I ran out of the bathroom as fast as I could and saw people all over the place laughing at my embarassement.

No wonder I was thinking of how strange it was that there were no urinals in that bathroom. I'm a moron.

queefy said...

I have to take a dump now

Alicia said...

Hi Eddie,

I love reading your daily posts, I always feel like I'm learning something new that will one day make me the life of the party. I can only dream of the day.

On a separate note, since I do value your opinion, I just had to write my first artists statement and I was wondering if you could give me your two cents. It was right up there with writing a cover letter and I'm horrible at those. I know you're a busy guy but if you could I would thank you so much! It's located on my painting blog. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I didnt find thing that i need... :-(
google

Jason White said...

very funny! i have a silly observation about those signs. if you look at the symbol representing handicapped folks next to the regular man symbol, you will notice that the man that isn't handicapped has no neck and appears to be decapitated, when the handicapped symbol man has a neck, and sometimes he even has feet.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: Go ahead!

Joel, Jennifer: Thanks for the compliments! Yes there often is a sofa in the ladies' room! I know because I twice wandered in there by mistake and both times I saw one. One was even covered with quilted red velvet! Compare that to the mens' room which is usually full of flies and dead bodies!

Pete Emslie said...

If a bunch of Americans were confused when first confronted by these new restroom symbols back then, imagine what it must have been like for the poor kilt-wearing Scots...

Anonymous said...

"imagine what it must have been like for the poor kilt-wearing Scots... "

scots tend to go where they stand so its not really an issue

NARTHAX said...

Those now-common bathroom icons were part of the powers that be trying to push the metric system on an unsuspecting, redneck America in the 1970's. While metrics proved a U.S. washout, the male/female generic figures ended up as immortal.

Jorge Garrido said...

Thanks, Eddie. I might have to add an intro to make it more email forward-ish, I rpomist I won't ruin it! You got an email?

>Compare that to the mens' room which is usually full of flies and dead bodies!

Eddie! Ix-nay on the dead odies-bay in front of mixed ompany-cay!

Anonymous said...

I hate to be a pedant, but it's "bated breath" as in "abated" as in "I held my breath".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bated_Breath

Anonymous said...

I think the pictographs work in favor of transsexuals and transvestites. The Symbols make no reference to the actual biological gender of their intended users. They just denote whether you should be wearing a dress or pants. As a gesture of solidarity with prosecuted trannies i should protest their exclusion from "ladies" rooms by wearing triangles extruding from my thighs and entering the corresponding restroom.

Anonymous said...

on a side note i once knew a model (the art school type and the fashion type) who had the bathroom symbols tattooed to her arms. When asked she couldn't give any sensible reason as to why she decided to do it. And apparently, according to soem new age Asian energy thing, she inadvertently placed the male figure on the "male side" of the body and the same with the female.


IN SCOTTLAND, what pictographic system do they use since both genders are equally likely to wear a type of skirt?

Ken said...

I'm friends with the graphic designer who actually created those very figures... they're called "signs symbols". The US government and AIGA commissioned them in the early 70's. They studied existing signage systems and tried to come up with easily understandable symbols for non-English speakers. There's a book about the whole process which is really fascinating (well, at least to a graphic designer). One thing to note is that the legs have to be together otherwise the signs tend to have male genitals added to them by vandals. They didn't design the handicapped symbol, though, that one was already being used.

Anonymous said...

pretty cool stuff here thank you!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I suggest you to put facebook likes button.