newopenstallsI was going to the bathroom once in Rhodes and the primitive facility – literally, a hole in the floor and the drawn in outline of where I should place my feet, led me the think, “I can wait until I get home.” Home, as in, my apartment in New York. Using the bathroom in a a foreign country is a form of education, in customs and learning how to ask for said bathroom. Or WC, or loo in England. Ask for a bathroom in a social setting in England and you get a strange look – why would you want to take a bath when you are at the theater?

In Japan, as a joke, our friends taught my husband a very crude way to ask, something along the lines of “where is crapper?” People were so polite that they rarely took offense, just mutely pointed. My husband did get in trouble once, when he forgot to switch from indoor slippers to bathroom slippers, and contaminated the indoor slippers by wearing them into the..crapper.

And on our first night in Italy, on a Backroads bicycle trip, my then 8 year old daughter got stuck in a stall at a restaurant. One of the other kids on the trip ran out to find me, and I had to go into the adjacent stall, lock myself in (I am extremely claustrophobic, and just writing this sentence made my heart pound) and talk her through unlocking the door.

New York City notoriously has poor public facilities, but every year for the last five, Charmin has created a pop (poop?)-up space in midtown, with free, clean bathrooms. In other parts of the city, you can go into a Barnes & Noble, but if you are hauling kids around, a trip into a store may mean you have to open your wallet.


And you can use the bathroom in Starbucks, but there is usually only one, and often a line. And again, its hard to go into Starbucks without buying anything, and if you buy a coffee, the vicious cycle of bathroom need starts all over.

That’s what makes this restroom unique. You can do your business and not feel compelled to buy anything. Stroller parking, diaper changing stations and a stage where kids can get up and dance make it family friendly.

The Charmin Restrooms, on 42nd Street, between 6th Avenue and Broadway, have 15 bathrooms, open through December 31. Special events at the space have included a toilet seat cover contest, and a  cha-cha dance for charity.