In the U.S., handicapped restrooms are one stall within the main section of restrooms. While those stalls are obviously "reserved" for handicapped patrons, it is considered "acceptable" to use this stall if no handicapped person is waiting to use it. For instance, if a line is very long in a women's restroom, the handicapped restroom is put in the rotation. If you are a parent with children, you can use this bathroom. If you have a lot of luggage at the airport, you can use this restroom. The only "unspoken rule" is that if someone who really needs it comes in, you would immediately allow that person to move to the front of the line and use it.
In Turkey, handicapped restrooms are not common at all. But when we went to the M1 yesterday, I saw one. As Isaac and I raced to go to the bathroom before we had a mess on our hands, I saw three choices: women, men, and handicapped. Thinking that handicapped would offer me the room to go into the stall with him and possibly a lower toilet so that he could stand up, I chose it, especially because it was also the nearest door.
A second later there was a knock on the door. A Turkish custodian was jabbering at me in Turkey, and while I kept pleading "I don't understand" in Turkish, I definitely did understand what she was telling me. I was not allowed to use this restroom. So I pulled Isaac's pants back up and made my way into the women's restroom where I could not fit in the stall with Isaac and had to leave the door open. The mall was next to empty. There was no one else who wanted to use this stall. And so, using my own influences, couldn't figure out what the big deal was.
I love my friend Rana! I can ask her any question and quickly understand. While most Turks are willing to help me with my questions, most speak limited English, and I therefore often can't really determine what it is I am trying to understand. I get the general idea but can't go deep into an answer.
Rana said that it is never acceptable to use a handicapped restroom unless you are handicapped. "If they allowed us to do it sometimes, we'd abuse it," she said. That makes sense. However, they allow us to use it in the U.S. and I don't really feel that we abuse it. I feel that we somehow know who this stall belongs to, and while we can borrow it, we do not own it. Do any Americans reading this disagree?
Topic aside, I was again reminded how many things in our culture we simply learn by watching. I doubt my mother ever told me the rules for these restrooms. How did I learn this? And how does just a small thing like that make you feel as if you have totally culturally erred? There is always something new to learn -- and outside of your own culture, that is even more true!