Do you remember that episode of Sex and the City, in which Samantha Jones nips out to the clap clinic for an HIV test? When her results are ready, she is called into the little room and, upon realising this, promptly faints, assuming that such a private consultation must mean bad news.
That episode demonstrates perfectly the concept of the little room, that private place within a public place, where things are discussed in hushed tones; things too secret, too clandestine, too private to be talked about openly.
The little rooms are all over the place, if you look closely, and usually related to bodies. There’s a little room at my pharmacist, for example, where you can discuss things that you don’t want to share with a queue of ailing pensioners and sniffling children. There is another little room at my doctor’s surgery, where you can go to request an appointment about things that you don’t want to share with a queue of ailing pensioners and sniffling children… You get the picture. You’ve seen the little rooms. Don’t panic, dear reader; we will not be asking each of you to confess as to whether you have ever used the little room.
Ideally, I’d prefer all discussions about my health to take place in private but, it seems, this is not at all necessary. It is socially acceptable to discuss, let’s say, tongues and nasal passages in public, but not bums and lady-gardens. You can tell the population of your local pharmacy about your varicose veins, but not your haemorrhoids. It has to be a topic of shame, humiliation or embarrassment to warrant the little room.
Therein lies the problem. The little room now has a reputation. When you gesture awkwardly at its door and whisper “Could I just have a word with you in there?”, you know full-well that everyone else in the building is thinking:
Oooooh – what’s she got that’s so bad she needs to use the little room?!
In their imagination you are now a creature of some dreadful hidden shame, and it is their mission to scrutinise you in the hope of working out just what it is about you that is SO very shameful. Maybe they even look you up and down for clues… Does she look like she hasn’t slept? Is she walking a bit gingerly? Just what could it be?
I like to think that there’s a list. You know, an unwritten “rules of the little room” list. Probably there is even some form of hierarchy, or relativity: are haemorrhoids better or worse than an embarrassing rash? You may not request the use of the little room to buy condoms, however if said condom breaks into a thousand pieces of uselessness, you may use the little room to request the morning-after pill. That sort of thing.
I’ve been in the little room. I’m sure all the people in the queue thought I had some deep, dark secret that couldn’t possibly be discussed in polite company. Maybe some of them judged me, or thought:
Yep – she wears too much lipstick. She’s just the type I’d expect to use the little room.
To be fair, I do wear too much lipstick and I do have deep dark secrets but, on this occasion, I needed my pharmacist to show me how to apply some anaesthetic cream for a biopsy. There was really nothing shameful about it. But I suspect that if I had shoved aside the half-price digital thermometers and walloped my left breast onto the public counter for assistance, I might have caused a couple of the ailing pensioners to leave in an ambulance. So I asked to use the little room.
If walls could talk, the little rooms would be the authors of many a best-seller. But next time you see someone ask, almost silently, for a private consultation, don’t automatically assume that there’s shame involved. Perhaps they just don’t want to get their knockers out, on a Tuesday morning, in the middle of a pharmacy. Seems fair to me.