A few notes on bathrooms in British hotels
You may expect to find the most cultural difference in Britain in the museums and architecture, the way people talk and act, the food they eat (Haggis?), and the unstomachable national brands of liqueur they drink, but nowhere is culture shock greater than in the bathroom.
These mysterious and unfathomable ceramic shrines are a bundle of the unexpected and the entirely novel. It starts in a cheap guesthouse when you discover that the only bathroom is down the hall, coed, and is shared by everyone on the floor...
This bath is your bath, this bath is my bath
Among European hoteliers, it's a bit of a mystery why so many American travelers so strongly object to sharing a bathroom.
From their point of view, they find it a bit odd that many of us feel we cannot sleep in a room unless there's a toilet right next to the bed.
Although more and more British hotels are installing bathrooms in every room, it is by no means standard. Either accept the shared bath principle or prepare to pay extra for a private bath in your room.
Note that, except in hostels, rarely is a bath down the hall shared by more than two or three rooms (sometimes it's even your own private bathroom; it's just not located inside the room itself thanks to the constraints of medieval architecture and historic preservation laws). » more
Is that a towel or a waffle?
Traditional European towels are flat, waffle-textured and singularly nonabsorbant.
Follow the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy's advice and carry your own of the terry-cloth or camping variety for just such an emergency (a hand towel is least bulky).
The early bird gets the hot shower
Hot water may be available only once a day and not on demand—this is especially true of shared baths.
Heating water is costly, and many smaller hotels only do it once daily, in the morning. Once that's used up, the luxury won't be available again until the next day.
When you check into a cheap hotel, ask "When is there hot water?"
Some bathrooms still suffer from those annoying British single-use hot water heaters for the shower—push a button, get 15–20 minutes of hot water, then have to wait another 20 minutes for it to heat up again—so shower quickly. Some even still have the old coin-operated individual water heaters for each stall. Fun!
Take your shower quickly, soap up without water, and try to be first in line to avoid inadvertent freezing.
No, that's not an auxiliary toilet
That funny extra toilet that looks like a reclining urinal is called a bidet. Its water jets are intended to clean the bits of you that don't often get tanned, so to speak—much more thoroughly than toilet paper.
Your host will not appreciate it if you use the bidet as an auxiliary toilet.
Some tourists wash out clothes or store fruit or beer in there, but I just think about what the European guests use the thing for and do my laundry in the sink.
Is that the shower or a spigot?
The European concept of a shower is often to stick a nozzle into the wall and a drain in the floor.
Curtains are optional. In many cramped private baths, you may have to rescue the toilet paper and find it safe harbor outside the bathroom before turning on the shower and drenching the whole room.
This must be the kiddie bathroom...
Another fun European bathroom trick is the half tub, in which you sit rather than lie down, with a shower nozzle on a hose that has nowhere to hang.
The basin is only half as long as a regular tub, and has sort of an upper deck and a lower deck, the idea being that you sit on the upper one. The practical result is that your knees get very clean (though little else does), and the floor gets very wet.
You know how, in a foreign country, you get used to most of the local oddities after a while? Well I lived in a Roman apartment for a full year with one of these midget tubs, and I never got used to it.
Thankfully, very few British hotels have these anymore, and those that do tend to be one-star joints in out-of-the-way destinations.