Why do developed nations have tiny bathrooms?

For the last two weeks I have been travelling in Western Europe, which is supposed to comprise developed countries. ­Economists and others use all sorts of fancy criteria like per capita income, hospital beds and doctors per capita, schools and teachers per capita, etc to judge if a country is developed or not. They say more is better and less is worse. India does badly on these counts.

Fair enough, but now to this list of per capita this and per capita that, I want to add another criterion: per ­capita bathrooms. Having lived abroad for several months in the past and having travelled abroad a fair bit, I can say with confidence that the moment you add this criterion, even the most developed country can slide down many notches.

Europe, including the UK, fares very badly. Even a country like ­Switzerland is not an exception. I know because my son lives there, in a prosperous town and in a good locality. The houses there are beautiful, overlooking Lake Geneva. They are old, have the most beautiful doors and windows and grand old flooring. The rooms are large and airy. In other words, all that you could wish for in an apartment.

Whereas the average size of a bathroom with a western commode in India is 40sqft, in the ‘developed’ countries of Europe, it is half, or less than half of that.

But all these gorgeous apartments have a major deficiency: they have only one bathroom with a small shower and a separate toilet. Just one. Not just that. They are also very tiny. Whereas the average size of a bathroom with a western commode in India is 40sqft, in the ‘developed’ countries of Europe, it is half, or less than half of that. Or, as the saying goes, you can’t swing a cat in there. My son’s apartment is no exception. In fact, I once stayed in a hotel in central London, a fairly posh one, where the bathroom was so small that the walls were almost touching my shoulders.

Over the years I have done some research on this strange preference for one tiny bathroom in an otherwise luxurious apartment or house. At first I thought it was because real estate was expensive so they didn’t want to waste money on rooms which a person occupies for a short while every day. Even if there are four or five adults in the house it’s just about an hour a day. So why waste space and money? But this turned out not to be the case. Real estate in India is more costly in relative terms and we still have very large bathrooms. The real reason, I was told, is the high cost of plumbing. Or maybe they are just unhygienic.

But there’s one thing you have to hand it to the Europeans. ­Regardless of how small the bathrooms are, there’s always a tub that uses up a huge amount of water. That suggests they bathe much less frequently, which is understandable given how cold it gets. What is less easy to understand, however, is how they manage in summer when it can get very hot. But now they do have showers in some places which is good. But there’s a problem: you have to stand in the tub to have one. That can be quite tricky and dangerous as well.

Nor, as it happens, do these people have the concept of attached bathrooms. These are accessible through the corridor or passage. That can make life quite embarrassing for non-
European women. So here’s my suggestion to the World Bank which decides which country is developed and which is not: add attached bathrooms to your criteria.

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