It’s gone midnight and steaming hot. You’re sweaty, exhausted and taxi touts are shouting at you. You’ve just landed in a foreign country, welcome!
The first rule of thumb when leaving your spic and span first world home for foreign locales is to remember why you’re traveling in the first place. If everything was just like at home, we would stay home and not bother traveling. Change, new experiences, challenges, and differences are all good; our raison d’etre to travel.
Having a couple of good toilet travel stories, the more gruesome the better is a badge of honor with some travelers. If that’s not you, this small primer is for you.
Often amusing to visitors to the US is the term “restroom”, which is also known by a variety of different names around the world. Latrine, water closet, WC, loo, bog, outhouse, squat pot, lav, bathroom, throne, and toilet are just a few common monikers.
Culturally there is a great separation between East and West, first world, and third world, especially when it comes to “spending a penny”. This is a British expression which originated from an era when it cost a penny to use a public toilet. “I’ll be right back, I have to spend a penny” is still widely used by Brits, despite pay toilets being abolished decades ago.
Located in Grindelwald, Switzerland, this is what Aussies would call an “outhouse”, which we suspect rarely sees a line!
All things are relative, recently a Chinese passenger at Hefei Xinquio International Airport was hospitalized after the porcelain toilet he was squatting on shattered and collapsed. This traveler was unfamiliar with the protocol of Western thrones as they were completely foreign to him. Apparently, he did not want to sit or even hover over the “unsanitary” bowl. Cultural differences cut both ways, unfortunately, in this case, enough to land the passenger in hospital.
Outside of international hotels, flush toilets and toilet paper are not the norms in some parts of the world, including Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Singapore, and Japan. In Europe, squat toilets are known as Turkish toilets and can be widely found in Turkey, also the Mediterranean and even Switzerland!
The second rule of thumb in our primer is to carry a small roll of toilet paper, tissues or wet wipes in your daypack or purse. When faced with a hole in the floor, sans toilet paper, which can often be the case, you’ll want to pat yourself on the back for being prepared, with your left hand, of course. But we digress, left-hand etiquette is another article!
Many countries with both public squat toilets and so-called “western toilets” have rather informative signs with illustrations to help navigate the facilities. There are numerous toilet humor books published with entire collections of signs. Helpful signs should not be snickered at. If not sure how to proceed in a foreign loo, look around for an informative sign!
To get down to brass tacks, here’s a quick tutorial on using squat toilets. Some experts recommend beginners remove all clothing below the waist. Don’t bother because there probably won’t be any hooks to hang your pants onto. Wear your purse around your neck/body, as you will need to have your hands free for balance. Many modern squat toilets have two-foot indentations in the floor, this is where your feet go. Be sure to lean back on the heels/balls of your feet. Just like at the gym, the lower the squat the more balance you will have. Depending on the ‘model’ of the squat toilet, also be sure you are facing the right way, which would be in the reverse direction of what you probably think.
That is pretty much it. Where it gets tricky is if you did not BYOTP – bring your own toilet paper. Do use the pedal if there is one or the trash can, which is usually alongside a toilet without a peddle to dispose of toilet paper. And don’t forget to tip the attendant. The last words on squat toilets belong to numerous medical studies which cite substantial colon, hemorrhoid, pelvic and regularity health benefits to squatting, as opposed to lounging on a loo reading a newspaper.
It’s not too complicated and a genuine foreign travel experience for many people, with health benefits to boot. Travel well!