South America has me doing double takes with its bathroom signage. I’m used to clear designations between the spelling or visual aids distinguishing the male from the female sign. And maybe sober it wouldn’t be so hard. But add in a few drinks (or a bottle of wine) to the equations, and I’m at a loss.
In Bogota, I was confounded by “Ellos” and “Ellas.” I know you are mentally chastising me. “Kasey, there’s a letter A in the female sign as opposed to the letter O in the male sign.” Picture yourself in a dank, dark dungeon of a bar, two hours deep in a trough of alcohol. Do you think you could instantaneously discriminate? I don’t think so.
And I wasn’t the only one. As I rounded the corner to the banos, I did a double take at the identical western-style swinging doors. On the left was the word “Ellas” painted in peeling paint from the 1500s, most likely scribbled by Christopher Columbus himself the day he discovered the Americas and was celebrating with a congratulatory margarita. On the right was the same door with the same peeling paint with the same word except instead of an A there was a faint and peeling O. In the dimly-lit hallway, I could not distinguish the difference in the two. As I stood gawking with perplexity left then right, then left again, I was met with a hapless British gentleman in the same predicament as me.
“My Spanish is not so good today.” He sheepishly confided in me as we continued to crane our necks in unison left then right. I was hoping to take my cue from him and go the opposite direction but I think he was hoping the same thing from me. So we kept prancing around each other until a frustrated local took me by the shoulders and guided me to the left.
“Ellas. Women. You. Go!”
Santiago was no better. In another dimly-lit bar I was greeted with another A versus O situation. Companeras and Companeros. C’mon!
Visual aids did nothing to help my perplexity at a steakhouse in Santiago where instead of any verbiage, the signs are museum-worthy Michelangelo sculptures. I know in the sober light of day this would not be such a difficult predicament. But again, picture yourself around midnight, sated with fatty steak and lubricated with heavy wine, navigating a narrow labyrinth of a hallway to get to the restroom. In the hazy light, you are greeted by two sculptures of limbless naked bodies cast in shadows. Squinting your eyes, you try to discern the female body from the male body and curse whoever made the male member so small that it’s basically a fat vagina.
Mendoza continued this frustrating trend in miniature, which proved a challenge at the tail-end of a wine tasting tour. After orienting myself to the human-looking sculptures chiseled during the Neolithic Age, I took offense at the female sculpture having a drooping lower belly, as if that is as distinguishing a feature of femaleness as a skirt. And why the raised arms? Are both of these deformed souls being chased by police? Most likely they’re cheering the patrons who correctly identify which bathroom to use, because that is a feat in and of itself. Hooray! You are a woman and correctly figured out which of these flailing figures point to the women’s restroom!
Buenos Aires was better but no less comfortable. In one bar in Palermo, the sculptures where life-sized and attached to the actual bathroom door. And there was no handle. So, yes, you knew which door you had to open, but to do so, you either had to grab the lass by the the bosom, the waist, or the punani to let yourself in. What a treat! I struggled with finding the least germy area to touch, and settled on the clavicles. As you can see from the dirty hand marks below, most patrons did not choose the clavicles.