Cheryl Gurner

Cheryl Gurner, creative director at Bathrooms International, has worked within interior design and the bathroom industry for the last 30 years. She has amassed a huge database of high-profile clients and projects both in the UK and abroad, offering what she describes as an "unrivalled personal service"

Oh La La!

Posted 25th Jun 2012

Visiting France, for me, is always a joy. The entire country is a visual feast but the crowning glory for any foodie is the array of amazing restaurants at tiered levels of prices and offering such a variation of fabulous dishes.

Last weekend we elected to have the most indulgent of times. We started in Lyon and travelled through to Montrachet and Pouilly. It was a complete eating and fine wining weekend which began and ended at Michelin-star level and, in between, with us trying the various different price option eateries.

Why do I tell you this – because of the loos!

I am sure you must think I am toilet crazy – not really the case, but such habits cannot fail to interest me given my chosen career.

For example – take an average restaurant (be it bistro or whatever) in an average French town. It will be decorated in a marriage of styles, fabrics and wallpapers, all differently coloured with a mixture of plastic flowers on tables, silver plated animals and the like, plus various antiques dotted about the place.

In England we’d call that a junk shop. In France it totally works.

The need to visit the facilities (often more than once) becomes necessary.

Lunch in France is a serious experience no matter what the level of restaurant. It would be rude not to have an aperitif before you begin and even ruder to refuse the offer of a digestif once you have finished. …and the coffee and cherries soaked in Kirsch … I digress.

Each course is brought with ample time between. Wine is poured copiously and the sensible of us ensure we drink plenty of water with it.

My first visit to the facilities started well enough. I entered the loo, past the huge unusual wall-mounted basin inset around huge framed mirrors on all walls, flowered wallpaper, paper towels and a hand drying machine. Although I have to confess it didn’t smell so great.

The only WC stall was - well, what can I say – clean but not inviting so, being me, I took loo paper to spread across the seat (just in case).

Time to wash my hands so I opened the WC door, turned towards the basin, and in stupefied amazement, noticed a man stood facing the wall in front it…... which, the aforementioned and impossible to ignore mirrors, illustrated clearly that it was not, in fact, a huge unusual wall-mounted basin – but a urinal!

In my normal ‘cool and I can react well to anything manner’ I emitted a shriek that would have woken the dead. The interesting reaction, however, was the gentleman in question …. who carried on without looking up. Vive La France!

Arriving late to an end destination on day 2 we decided to stop ‘where we felt like it’ and take whatever room we could find for the night. Quite a fun pastime in France but, as they say, don’t try this at home.

The only place we could find, as darkness fell in the small medieval village, was a dilapidated manor house/hotel (normal French type of 2* with restaurant).

We knocked on a closed door which, after a few minutes, creaked open. A not so gorgeous lady had opened it. We asked if there was a room for the night that we could see. She beckoned us forward. Up the stairs, along the corridors and up another flight.

Old, dingy, smelly and creaky and I wasn’t feeling brave (obvious that I’ve read too many whodunnits) but I ‘got a grip’. Finally she opened a room door……

"Ear eaze de bed" (note, please, the room was 2.5m x 2m so ‘zee bed’ was not impossible to notice, as was the fact that my 6ft husband and I were unlikely to be able to fit into it.

In addition there was a half-cupboard under the eves, a basin on a stand and a low level cupboard by which she stooped to open with pride and joy on her not so lovely face. She smiled (top dog tooth missing but I managed, with all the grace I could muster, not to laugh).

Out she wheeled "Zer Bidet" complete with rubber connection hoses to a hot and cold water feed plus flexible waste!

Just what the British ordered – no loo, no bath, and no shower but …. A bidet! …. and they said it wasn’t for washing your feet – well I can tell you, in that scenario it washed teeth and all, it was all that we had (communal loo was outside the door, just to honestly complete the picture).

The next visit on the trip was dinner at an over-the-top, pretentious, utterly overpriced and over-rated restaurant. Quite unforgettable really. My, those waiters took the cake.

Arrogant, mais OUI.
Attentive, mais NON.
Was it because we were English? Mais probablement!

You know the type of thing. Can speak English but won’t so you say what you want to me in French or you get what you’re given!

OK, here goes - how hard is it to ask for a bottle of still water? "S’il vous plait, je voudrais une bouteille d’eau, sans gaz?"

"Pardon, Madame, eer, how do I say eet? Oh, mais oui DONC, so I am sure I understand correctly, you want zee water in a boot-tell with boobles?"
Crimes have been committed for less…

Anyway, off to inspect the loos… occupational hazard. I firstly ascertained that the ladies were, indeed, separate from the men. Tick box No. 1

Secondly it was clean, more than adequately supplied with paper towels, facial tissues, soap and hand cream dispensers full. Mirrors well lit. A place for your handbag that isn’t soaking wet from previous dripping hands (at least they washed them). Tick box No. 2.

The loo stalls were clean, but were situated back to back with the men’s loo stalls – this piece of detective wizardry was the conclusion drawn from the ‘sound effects’ experienced coupled with the quick glance that everyone gives when you go back to your table. Un-tick box No. 1.

Finally onto the Relais and Chateaux hotel for the last night. No creaky door, a porter, a car park, fresh linens, water by the bed, TV with ENGLISH channel (singular) and – the bathroom.

Nothing grand although bright, marbled, it was on the smallish size, into which was squeezed a small bath with over shower on a slide bar. Big basin, lots of lovely smellies and big soft towels and, of course, the bidet.

Toilet was typically set in a little, windowless and extractor-less room of its own backing onto the bedroom! (Clearly the French really do like to hear themselves ‘think’)!

I have been in other French hotels where an en-suite been created within the existing bedroom space – you may as well not bother with walls. Truly, as I have said before, I really don’t want that much intimacy with my partner and can’t believe many people do!

Or is it because I’m English?

The French do not spend a great deal of money on their bathrooms – and it shows. I do not know why. … my company represents the finest of French manufactured bathroom products both aesthetically and technically so home grown beauty does exist.

Yes, 5+ star hotels and high-end homes use the best, but in general the French lavatory (and often a bathroom) are not beautiful places to use – and if you have a weak heart you will do well to remember that in public places you’d be wise to check that the basin is just that …… because the shock could kill you.

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