Legend: A young woman on a date who is too timid to ask where the toilet is meets with disastrous results.
[Collected on the Internet, 1999]
This girl had been dating a rich guy in New York City. After a few months he took her to dinner at his parents mansion. During dinner she needed to use the toilet. Not wanting to be indiscreet she asked where the "powder room" was. The parents had the butler assist her to the powder room. When she went inside it had only a vanity and sink. She did not want to embarass herself by asking for the toilet, instead she decided to pee in the sink. However when she sat on the sink, it pulled out of the wall, and she fell off hitting her head on the towel rack and knocking herself unconscious. On hearing a loud thump from above the family rushed upstairs to find the sink broken and girl passed out with her pants down.
[Collected on the Internet, 1999]
There was this teenager. She was the daughter of a rich (if stuffy) couple and went to an exclusive private girls-only school. She was also head over heels in love with a particularly nice boy from one of the local
boys-only private schools. She would do anything to meet him, and was continually making up excuses or 'coincidences' so that she would run into him.
Being a boy, he finally got the message after she almost threw herself at him. He invited her out. However, being himself from a stuffy family, their first 'date' was to dinner at his house with his parents.
The girl was ecstatic, if nervous, and immediately set out to make sure that the night would be a success. She didn't eat for a week. She spent a huge amount on a new haircut and a makeover. She bought a new dress. Finally, the night came. She went to the house and was introduced to the parents at the door. They made small talk. Things were going fine.
Then, in the middle of the main course, the girl needed to go to the toilet. Being on her best behaviour, she asked for the bathroom. She was given directions, but when she got there, she only found a bath and a sink. Not wanting to appear foolish and go back to ask directions to the toilet, she decided to use the sink. Unfortunately, it was a little high and awkward to sit on, and half way though she slipped, broke the sink, and knocked herself unconscious.
After half an hour, concerned about what had happened to her, that's where the entire family found her - unconscious, her knickers around her ankles, lying in a mess of water, urine and broken sink.
Of course, when she came to, she was humiliated. The boy, however, thought it was the funniest thing in the world. He visited her in hospital and asked her to come around again. At first she wouldn't but, when convinced that the family had forgiven her and that it would never be mentioned, she agreed.
As with the first time, she spent a week preparing for the night. As with the first time, she was greeted by the parents at the door. Feeling slightly more nervous than the first time, the sat down on the nearest sofa - only to hear a hideous cracking sound. She quickly stood up, and discovered that she had just broken the back of the family's beloved chihuahua.
She never saw the boy again.
Origins: The legend of the social-climbing young lady and her fall from both grace and a bathroom sink dates to at least 1991. It's usually set in Britain, where one could possibly still find older homes in which the bathroom (or washroom) contained only a washstand and where one would therefore need to ask for the "water closet" if one expected to be directed to the toilet, or (as in the first example above) in a "rich person's home" where one might find a "vanity room" with only a sink. (Neither explanation really applies to the second example above, in which the girl is clearly from the same area and social class as the boy she's dating.)
This related version was told by novelist and biographer Andrew Sinclair:
A friend of mine from Australia was asked to an elegant party in Eaton Square. Caviar was to be served after the champagne. Having drunk too much of that, my friend found his way to the bathroom. He groped around for a light switch, but did not discover it. He then groped around for a lavatory, but did not discover one. Finally, he found the edge of the bath and settled for that. He relieved himself slowly and fully, then turned on the taps to swill away the evidence.
Going back to the party, he asked his hostess where the caviar might be. 'Packed on ice,' she said, 'in the bath. I am just going to get it.' He went instead, walking quickly back to Australia.
As a legend, the "sink tinkle" shares a number of elements with the more common crushed dog tale in which an over-anxious guest manages to kill the family pooch by sitting on it. It's therefore no surprise to see the two combined into one story as they appear in the second example above. Crushed dog tales often include a lead-in of the guest having committed a prior faux pas, necessitating his return to the scene of the crime to tender an apology:
A young man, new in town, is invited to a party at an expensive home. He falls asleep after drinking heavily and awakens in a dark room. While fumbling for the light switch, he accidentally sticks his finger into an open ink well and leaves stains and fingerprints all over the room.
Embarrassed by the damage he has done, the young man slips away unnoticed. The next day he decides to return and apologize.
He was admitted by a servant, who led him to a dim library to await his host or hostess. He entered the library, and sank into the nearest comfortable chair, only to hear and feel a mind-boggling CRUNCH! The young man leapt to his feet to discover that he had crushed a delicate Chihuahua to death. He fled again, and never returned.
A 1996 British version of the crushed dog tale also includes a lead-in involving a boorish guest and bathroom functions gone awry. In that telling, a lad staying over at a country home awakens in the middle of the night, overcome by the urgent need to defecate.
He locates a chamber pot in his room, does his business in it, and returns to bed, resolving to empty the pot first thing in the morning before anyone else is about. In the morning, after topping up the pot with the contents of a full bladder, he sets out to look for a toilet to dump this steaming stew into. Alas, none is to be found. Still a bit tipsy from the night before, our hero decides to empty the pot out a window and onto the flower beds below. Unfortunately, as he holds the pot out the window, the weight of everything in it causes its handle to snap off. The pot plummets down the side of the house, crashes through the glass conservatory roof below, smashing and splashing its contents over the main table where the other guests are seated for breakfast.
Be it spilled ink, a broken sink, or a crushed dog, at the heart of each of these tales lies an overriding commonality — the unforgivable social error committed by someone clearly out of his element. Stories such as these are our way of venting such fears, getting them out in the open where we can laugh at them, but at the same time confirming to ourselves how very much we dread some day becoming the one to break the sink or squash the dog.
Only because the following story fits well enough with the theme of social embarrassment to permit me an excuse to slip it in here, I present the following letter to Miss Manners:
Dear Miss Manners:
This may sound silly, but I'm serious. When someone suffers a particularly embarrassing accident in front of you and many others, what is the socially appropriate response? My husband and I got into an argument about this. We recently visited Boston, and while we were there, we attended a large party where everyone was elegantly dressed. At the party, a lady in a low-cut gown tripped, stumbled, lurched across a table, falling face first into a bowl of guacamole dip, and in the process "popped out" of her top. After an initial stunned silence, practically everyone in the room burst out laughing, even though it was obvious that the lady was terribly embarrassed. Then the hostess rushed over to help her and ushered her upstairs.
After we left the party, I criticized my husband for laughing and told him I thought it was very bad manners. But he said that it was not impolite for people to laugh at something like that as long as they meant no harm and didn't "overdo" it. I said it was inconsiderate of the person's feelings to laugh at all. He said it's the social custom. Could you settle the argument?
What do you mean "something like that"? Miss Manners doubts that there is anything in the world like an elegantly dressed Bostonian lurching across the room and diving face first into a bowl of guacamole dip while simultaneously disengaging her bodice from her bosom. Therefore, Miss Manners has a wee bit of trouble preparing a general rule for dealing with this eventuality. Nor, if she were your husband, would she attempt to justify a reaction on grounds other than direct cause and effect.
One might try to ignore a less spectacular accident. If, say, it were avocado dip, rather than guacamole, and the lady had merely trailed her sleeve in it, one could pretend not to have noticed. To pretend not to notice a performance such as you have described — even if it were humanly possible — would be to suggest that the lady did it all the time and her friends have gotten used to it. It is far better to comfort her later by telling stories of your own about hilariously embarrassing accidents you have survived.
Doesn't a broken sink or a squashed dog now almost sound picayune in comparison?
Barbara "social quirker" Mikkelson
Sightings: The "crushed dog" part of the legend shows up in Tom Robbin's 1980 novel Still Life with Woodpecker. Those looking for the "broken sink" part of the story will find that in an episode of television's The Single Guy (a short-lived sitcom aired in the U.S. from 1995-97).