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Sunday, June 10, 2012

*Warning* This One's Just a Bit Gross

The first cultural moment I have upon entry into any new country (or my home country, for that matter) is almost always using the restroom at the airport.  Airports tend to be quite generic and, therefore, don't really signal the entrance into a new culture very much.  But, surprisingly really, bathrooms are always a bit different no matter where you go.  If you've never been to a different country, you've probably never really thought much about the uniqueness of bathrooms there.  You might assume that something as elemental as the restroom, which is used for a function which really is the same all around the world (the function of excreting bodily waste that is), there couldn't really be too much difference.  Well, perhaps I can give you some examples to show you how very wrong you really are.

In the hostel I stayed at in Paris, the toilet in the room was actually a bidet. - you know, the things that shoot a little spray of water on your tush.  We couldn't figure out what to do with the thing, or even how to sit on it.  I still don't really know.  The toilet in the hall had a string with a tassel on it that you would pull to flush.  I vaguely remember that there was a bit more oddity to it than that, but I can't remember exactly what.

This is pretty close to what the bidet looked like.  I'm guessing you only use it for #1.  
In Romania the plumbing system wasn't great, so you weren't supposed to flush the toilet paper.  Just think of the ramifications of that.  This is actually true a lot of places.  What we did instead was throw the used toilet paper in a trash can to the side of the toilet.  If we didn't empty it frequently, trust me, we'd know.  Gross. 

A lot of places both in Romania and in Taiwan (and elsewhere) have "squatty toilets."  As it sounds, there's a hole in the ground and you just squat.  It can take a lot of balance.  I have often wondered how a pregnant lady might fare using those.  Heaven help her if she's constipated.  Sorry.  I know.  Super gross.

Also, in Taiwan, a lot of public bathrooms use tissues (like the kind you blow your nose on) instead of toilet paper.  Plus, they usually have the tp in the area by the sink instead of in the stall, so you better be good at estimating how much you will need.  And heaven help the foreigner who doesn't know the system.  Yes, I experienced that problem.

Lately, at work, a lot of the interns have been having bathroom issues.  One intern didn't realize for the first week or two (or more?) that there were both men's and women's bathrooms.  Her rational is that she thought Germany was so "progressive" that they just had combined restrooms.  She thought the picture of the guy on the men's bathroom was for both because girls can wear pants.  She used the men's bathroom that whole time.  Another intern got confused and walked into the IT guy's office instead of the bathroom.  "Oh, hi Tony.  Uh, I thought this was the bathroom."  

On my part, after work one day Tom and I were going to go to the park.  So, I needed to used the restroom at the train station to change out of my work clothes.  The way it was set up is that it costs 1 euro to use and you have to put the coin in a machine, then walk through a turnstile.  The machines and turnstile for the women's is right next to the men's.  They face each other.  You walk in and go right for men's, left for women's.  Well, I was new to this system, so I carefully read the instructions and tried to figure out the right spot for the coin, etc. etc.  In fact, I paid so much attention to the process that I forgot to focus on which side was for women's.  I ended up paying my euro, walking through the turnstile, looking to my left and seeing urinals.  To complicate matters, I couldn't figure out how to get back out at first.  So, yeah, I was trapped in the men's bathroom.  Awesome.  I went over and pushed/shook some of the bars to see if they'd give way and open.  In other words, I was shaking the bars of my cage as two women appeared from the women's side and made to leave.  They looked up at me and I looked at them like a dear in the headlights and said, "help me??"  Maybe they didn't speak english, but they just gave me a look of embarrassment and walked away.  Don't worry, I eventually got out.  

I even took a picture for you once I got in the right spot.  Hope that's not too personal for you:

Notice that there's three rolls of toilet paper on the left side of the photo and another one (for good measure?) in the middle of the picture.  I wasn't sure what that white thing on the top left is, so I push the metal bar toward the wall and it sprayed something at me (sanitizer??).  I haven't a clue why there's a metal rectangle on the top right.  In case you're wondering where to flush, the button encompasses the entire top part of the metal thing in the middle (to the immediate left of the toilet).  Very stylish though, no? 

I tried to take a picture of the turnstile area for you, just so you could really picture it, but people kept walking in and I thought that might be awkward.  I'd had enough of awkward.  

Well, I hope this has made restrooms, something you may have never given much thought to, a bit more interesting.  Have you ever gone somewhere, where the bathrooms are different?  Have you ever experienced any of the differences I've listed here?  Tell me about it!


  1. I LOVE BIDETS! I grew up with it in Saudi and it just feels like you get a good clean. (o.0) hehehe

  2. Oh you just gave me such a laugh! I remember going to the bathroom in Eastern Europe in the early 90s. There was always a poor lady who had to work at the door (remember everybody HAD to have a job) and you had to pay her for toilet paper. You got about 4 squares (if you were lucky)and then you had to stand over the hole in the floor and make sure you spread wide enough (obviously a man designed those hole in the floor "toilets")! I remember planning my day around when I thought I might have to go #2, making sure to be at my hotel or hostel. Or at least I made sure to always have my roll of tp with me in my camera bag! I don't know who advised me to carry tp with me, but I thank GOD for that person every day! Now this would have been a great class topic for EDUC 545! Maybe we will suggest it for next year's cohort:-) btw- I never figured out bidets either. Let me know if you ever do. There MUST be something to them?

  3. Michelle - Maybe you can teach Amy and I how to use one!! Amy - they totally still have those ladies! I had forgotten all about them, but they are still there! And I tried to carry around a toilet paper roll too! I should have also mentioned the time I took my preschool class to the bathroom in Taiwan only to find out AFTER they'd all gone that the school's miserly director was no longer stocking the bathroom with toilet paper!

  4. I totally remember using a squat hole in China. I tried using the bathroom at a mall in Shanghai and there was no toilet paper ANYWHERE in the bathroom. Apparently, people carry their own? I stuck to using the bathroom at the hotel before we went anywhere, lol........

  5. I totally read this whole thing on my phone last night in bed and had to come here today to comment, lol. WOW! My only weird experience with toilets are from Mexico. We had to pay for toilet paper some places. I laughed when I read how you got trapped in the mens restroom, haha! You gotta set up your comments so it goes to your email. That way you can respond to comments easily (and they will see it if they have email set up too) and I can reply to your comments on my blog via email too!

  6. The strangest thing I ever noticed (and it's not really strange) is that in Minnesota they don't have those paper toilet seat cover things. I guess the people in Minnesota are cleaner/less germy than those of us in California? *shrugging shoulders* Anyway, that's the extent of bathroom differences for me.

  7. The first time I used a squat hole was also in Italy, a few years later. Prior to this point, we always just looked for a different bathroom but I was desperate. I don't know if they are all super disgusting, but this one definitely was. I think it was reserved for staff of the cafe (who were all male) but I think they took pity on my sad face and let me use it. I'd never done it before and I remember staring at it for a bit trying to figure it out. I didn't know if my shorts would touch the crazy dirty floor around the hole so I actually took my shorts off, carefully avoiding my shoes, and hung them on the door. It was a miracle I didn't pee my pants and my poor dad was waiting forever to use it after me. lol.

    Also, The Chicago O'Hare airport has the craziest toilet seat covers. It's like a never-ending plastic seat cover. You push a button on the toilet when you want to use it and it pulls the plastic around the toilet seat, leaving fresh plastic for you. I thought it was so crazy I took a picture of the toilet but forgot my flash was on. Oops! Then I ran out of there before anyone thought I was a perv.

  8. OMG someone actually took a video of the Chicago O'Hare toilets!

    Guess I'm not the only fascinated by it!