We are well aware that humans are diverse creatures with infinite combinations of cultural differences. Culture informs the foods we eat, how we dress, the way we communicate, what we value, and even how punctual we are—to name a few. But did you know that culture also informs the way we use the restroom? Using a bathroom is something most of us have done at least 50,000 times, so it might come as a surprise to find out that how you use the restroom in London is not the same as how you use one in Jaipur.
Don’t worry—you won’t need to be re-potty trained, you just need to know what to expect. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the cultural differences of restroom etiquette.
Different Toilets for Different Cultures
Throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, you’ll be in for a surprise if you’re used to a Western style lavatory. When you walk into the restroom, instead of a private throne of porcelain, you might find a squat toilet (also known as a hole in the floor). In China or Western India, you might see three holes, all in a row, with no walls.
TP or Not TP? That Is the Question
It’s not just the toilets you’ll have to adjust to if you travel. You’ll also want to be sure you know how to ‘clean’ yourself after you ‘go.’ For example, toilet paper (TP) is not always a guarantee. This means you can make sure you never leave your home without your very own roll of TP, or you can save a tree and skip the TP! Better yet, if you’re In India, maybe opt for a water rinse (there will be a bucket or cup next to the toilet). Think: the original bidet.
If you do opt for TP, whatever you do, do not flush it in Thailand, Egypt, or Greece (to name a few). You should see a receptacle next to the toilet for the used toilet paper. This may seem unhygienic, but some countries don’t have the pipe systems to break down the TP.
Keep an Eye Out for Helpful Signage
Even if you’re unaware of the cultural differences when it comes to restroom etiquette, many places that get a lot of tourists or expats will offer helpful signage, like the one below. This sign probably indicates that people using the Western style toilet may not be familiar with how to use it. I’ve seen signs like these in large Chinese cities like Shanghai, for example, where I presume there are still newcomers to the city that might need some ‘guidance.’
Bonus Tip: Keep change in your pocket—you might need a euro or two to use the loo! Some countries do not have free public restrooms so a little extra pocket change can save yourself the panic 😉
As often is the case when learning about cultural differences, the lesson here is that one nation’s ‘weird’ is another’s daily routine. If you experience any of these unfamiliar bathroom scenarios while traveling, remember that you won’t die from trying something different—you might even become a “squatty potty” or no TP convert!
What kind of restroom situation have you encountered that made you wonder what was appropriate?