Using the bathroom may not be a popular topic of conversation, but along with sleeping and eating, it’s the one thing we all do every single day. And while you may be able to exert some level of control over how you take care of your “personal business” at home, that isn’t always the case when traveling.
Since one thing you cannot avoid while traveling abroad is a regular trip to the restroom, knowing how to go about it can be a major help.
Why Talk About It?
Just as any other aspect of a culture, the way we use the commode is different around the world.
Different countries, regions, and ethnicities practice different bathroom habits. Bidet here, toilet paper there, etc. Bathroom practices and etiquette can even be related to people’s religious practices:
- Islam forbids chatter, food consumption, and even reading while relieving yourself.
- In Judaism, the Torah permits reading secular literature or newspapers in the bathroom. It is even said that many great Rabbis practiced this.
- In Hinduism, ideal bathroom practices are listed out in the “Manusmriti,” which deems water a necessity for all bathroom business.
Before you start thinking that there is a list of regulations for bathroom etiquette around the world, be assured that this is not the case. However, it’s only fair to equip yourself with some knowledge about what you can expect, and what is expected of you, when using the bathroom in different countries.
If you’re used to using a bidet in the bathroom, you might want to prepare yourself before visiting countries in North America, especially the U.S./Puerto Rico, and Canada. There is only toilet paper used in this region. For people accustomed to using water to clean their business, don’t be caught off guard by this.
The one upside though, of the States especially, is that everything there is huge. Their servings are bigger, and the utilities are bigger too. Which leads us to larger toilet paper tissues. We’re sure you can put two and two together at this point. You will also find that nearly all North American toilets are well-stocked with toilet paper to use. Once you’ve done what you need to do, be sure to flush all the toilet paper. Never leave used toilet paper in a garbage can.
South America, like its northern cousin, is the land of toilet paper. However, there is one main difference. In South America, you do not want to flush the toilet paper.
Unlike up north, the South American drainage system is not equipped to handle toilet paper. All public bathrooms have trash cans for discarded tissues. However, it’s very important to remember that most South American public toilets are not stocked with toilet paper. If you need to go in public, you will need to bring your own.
Europe is the land where toilet paper and bidets coexist in harmony. Indeed, Europe caters to all. Bidets are most popular in France, available even in public restrooms. Most European bathrooms also have toilet paper. Hence, you’re free to choose whatever you’re most comfortable with.
In England, be meticulous about the lingo. A bathroom is a room usually with a tub for bathing. For relieving oneself, the Brits use” WC,” or water closet. Loo, restroom, and more formally, lavatory are also commonly used.
In France, the Netherlands, Germany, and most of continental Europe, pay toilets are a common sight. While some of these are automatic and coin-operated, some also have attendants stationed outside who you tip. The latter will greet you in many parts of Eastern Europe. Though they may appear a nuisance for tourists, they are normalized amongst the locals; so much so that there is even an English idiom derived from it: “to spend a penny,” i.e., to urinate.
Nordic countries of Europe have, by far, the coolest toilets ever. Not only are they modern and well-equipped, but they are also self-cleaning. Watch out for revolving toilets, which are often activated by a button provided in the lavatory. Such swanky washrooms have also begun to show up in the other bigger cities of the continent.
How are things done in the Land Down Under? Well, not much different from the rest of the Western world. Aussies favor toilet paper too, and thanks to the water scarcity across a majority of the continent, bidets are a sight for sore eyes. But alas, they aren’t commonplace, especially in public restrooms.
The one unique bathroom feature in the land of kiwis and kangaroos is the dual flushing system. As bizarre as this sounds, this is in place to conserve water. One button dispenses a half-flush meant for urination, while the other one dispenses a full-flush meant for defecation. Dual flushes are required in all bathrooms across the continent, public or private, by law. Usually, the larger lever/button is for the full-flush, while the smaller one is for the half-flush.
Lingo matters. Aussies don’t ever call it the bathroom. It’s either the loo, toilet, or a local slang, “the dunny.”
When you think of Africa and toilets, the African Toilet Crisis inevitably comes to mind. But with sustainable solutions and government intervention, the situation looks to be getting better.
In Africa, you’ll either come across standard Western-style toilets, or the African squat hole. Sometimes, you may even encounter a combination of the two, with the former built on top of the latter. You bring your own toilet paper, and if you are in an Islamic African country, you will see what is often called a “lota,” a water jug used for cleaning your extremities. At times, even a hosepipe is used.
If you are in for a long road journey across more rural areas, either prepare your bladder to hold it all in, or prepare yourself to use a bush. Public bathrooms are not found along most roads. So, when nature calls, you will have to retreat into nature to relieve yourself.
The Far East, much like its varied cultures and languages, has differing bathroom etiquettes across various countries.
The ASEAN region has all there is to offer in terms of bathrooms: Bidets, squat toilets, toilet paper, jet sprays, self-cleaning toilets; you name it, they have it. While the Asian Squat is world-renowned, Western toilets have become quite common too, with the addition of jet sprays and bidets. In countries like China, Korea, Thailand, etc. you might want to carry your own toilet paper. Also, a strange sight for Westerners are soap sticks instead of soap dispensers.
Japan deserves a special mention in this list because of the sheer outlandishness of its restrooms. If there’s one thing the Japanese ace, it’s technology. Even their toilets are testimony to this. It seems downright wizardry with climate-controlled seats, automatic deodorizers, automatic front-and-posterior bidets, adjustable water pressure, and even noisemakers to enhance privacy.
Moving onto South Asia, the Indian subcontinent prefers to use their left hands and plain old water to clean their business. Toilet paper is a rare commodity in the public bathrooms of this region, so brace yourself.
In the Middle East, the Islamic shattaf, or what is also called a “bum gun,” is commonplace in lavatories. Cleanliness is an integral part of the Islamic faith, and the Prophet Muhammad urged Muslims to clean their nether regions with water according to the Quran.
Taking Care of Business
Now that you’re intimately aware of the intricacies of bathroom etiquettes around the world, do your best to be prepared, and make the best of it. If you find that bathrooms in some parts of the world do not offer the hygiene you’re accustomed to, it is highly recommended to carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes with you. Still, no matter how careful you are, an unsanitary bathroom you’re forced to use could make you ill. Therefore, it’s extremely important to prepare for your trip properly by purchasing travel medical insurance or travel insurance. By investing in proper insurance, you can protect your finances from potentially large medical bills if you require treatment in a foreign country.
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