I don’t think Americans realize how good they have it when they go to the bathroom in America. Toilets around the world are a far cry from standard. While most developed countries at least have toilet paper (sometimes), in other places you might have to improvise. This is not your usual blog post, but it might help to lessen your culture shock when you set out to explore the unknown of other countries. The simple action of relieving yourself while abroad can be…adventurous.
My own surprises started as soon as I arrived in London. At least British toilets are the usual shape, and there is almost always toilet paper. However, space is a premium in London, where population density is nearly double Los Angeles. Everything is quite cramped, and the bathrooms are more so. After all, you technically don’t need more floor space than necessary for the toilet and your legs. Several times I found myself unable to use a bathroom in London unless I wanted to leave my backpack outside. It would have been fine if I was traveling with someone who could watch it, but when you’re by yourself, keeping your bag with you is a simple point of security.
Next I arrived in Genoa, Italy. That’s the first time I saw a Turkish toilet. It’s one of the more common types of toilets around the world you will find. Since I hadn’t heard of it before, I thought it was a joke. Just a hole in the ground with positions for the feet. At least there was toilet paper. But a couple days later, I arrived at my host in Sarzana, just south of Cinque Terre. I was a little embarrassed when I asked them why they had two toilets in my room, and they asked me if I knew what a bidet was, which I didn’t. By this point of my travels it was standard for me to carry my own toilet paper, so I didn’t have to worry. Oh, and if you’re American and haven’t heard of one either, a bidet is a douche attached to a toilet. And a douche is not just a rude name in America. It’s a hose with water to clean up afterwards, in lieu of toilet paper.
The next difference was in Lithuania. Many countries around the world, while they have plumbing for bathrooms, don’t have pipes big enough for paper products flushed down the toilet. A trash can with a lid is provided. There really isn’t anything wrong with this, but it can take some getting used to when you’ve never done it before.
Finally I arrived in SE Asia. The simplest way to describe some of the bathrooms is “anything goes.” Many places had basic toilets, but not all. Most had a douche available. Few had toilet paper, and often the trash bin was provided. But it wasn’t uncommon for it to be a Turkish toilet with a douche (no toilet paper) and not even any soap. It wasn’t something I had any desire to use, and many times I found myself simply waiting for the next opportunity to relieve myself, instead of suffer the embarrassment. A friend of mine sent me a photo from Vietnam where their toilet was the frame of a stool balanced over a couple of boards above a pit. At least they provided the stool.
However, what was even worse for me was an invention they had in the Bangkok mall toilets. I’ve heard these are also in Japan. It’s the mechanical douche. A control panel is attached to the side of the toilet. When you finish your duty, you press one button to start the water flow, another to move the flow around and a third for hot air. Harmless, right? Except for the feeling of being violated. I know I call myself an adventurer, but I don’t think I needed to try it in the name of the blog. But that’s written as an ignorant foreigner. I’m sure the locals would find American toilets strange.
Also know that very few places in the world have free public toilets. Developed countries have outhouses with electronic doors on them requiring a payment. In other countries, an old lady collects your payment at the door. Many restaurants will require you to purchase something. In Italy, it can be very rude if you use a restroom without buying at least an espresso. Of course, why you wouldn’t want to buy one there is beyond me. Best in the world…but I digress.
Unless you’re camping, thinking about the your next pit stop is probably furthest from your mind. Of course, every place in the world has somewhere you can drop your pants. Just know that place might not include the usual amenities you’re expecting – like the toilet.