On the world’s plumbing and related matters

By Christy Collins

November 3, 2010

Tags: ,

Category: travel

1 Comment »

For Americans they’re restrooms, in Canada they’re washrooms, here in Mexico they go by bano or sano, I think, although bablefish gives “tocador” and google turns still more possibilities. In most countries it’s among the first words you learn, along with the word for “women”, “ladies” and any other variation — even so, they’ll always be a tricky one. You pray for pictograms or someone leaving just at the right moment. Sometimes you take a gamble and leave with a sheepish look on your face, just in case.Some toilets have the virtue of simplicity. In China: a small porcelain basin in the floor, you face the door, it takes a little practise – the first few times you take your jeans off entirely, just to be sure. Once or twice you forget that there’s a flush mechanism and feel ridiculously guilty for hours afterwards.

In Japan they’re divided: there are western ones which are nothing like anything you’ve ever seen in the west – with seat warmers, waterfall sound effects, front and back wash functions, and a little blow dryer. You learn to recognise the character for “flush”. And then there are the “Japanese” ones. Mr K and I have a week-long debate: I claim you face away from the door, Mr K doesn’t think so. In the hotel we have Japanese toilets but in department stores I wait for the Western one, sheepish again, as I let people past me in the queue. In trains as well I wait, frightened of being in an unpractised and precarious position when the train comes to a sudden stop.

In Morocco you take a small bucket of water into the stall with you to flush. In Russia triple flushing is to be expected. By the end you’re wishing you had one of those Moroccan buckets. Here in Mexico I have emptied a wastepaper basket and filled it from the shower in desperation.

In lots of countries you can’t flush the paper. Each time I arrive in such a country I forget a couple of times: more toilet guilt. Very Freudian.

In Japan you wear special toilet slippers. In public toilets they are lined up at the entrance, one per stall, so that when there’s a queue the little ceremony of taking the stall after another women gets a new level: first she gives you her slippers. The bathroom slippers are a sensible and hygienic idea but they do seem a little absurd at an onsen when everyone is otherwise completely naked.

In Egypt a lady passes you the toilet paper in a small wad, sprays the liquid soap into your hands and presses you for a tip.

In Mexico an entry price is posted on the door.

Once, on the Russian/Mongolian border, with the train’s toilets locked for immigration purposes, I wrongly converted the currency and thought: ‘ I’m not paying that to go to the toilet’ and held on for four hours in outrage, finally giving in after realising that 1) Russian roubles are worth next to nothing outside Russia anyway and 2) the asking price actually amounted to about 20 cents.

In the Chicago Public Library Restrooms a sign hangs in doorway forbidding more than one person to enter a stall at a time. Apparently action will be taken against violators. I’m not 100% sure but I think there were a couple of violators in the end stall when I was there. It was as if the sign gave them the idea.


My two homelands should of course rate a mention:

The Netherlands has the “inspection shelf” which is strange and confronting at first but, as Mr K observes, not as bad as the US’s “inspection soup”.

In Australia, if you’re well behaved, you flush the toilet with grey water collected in a bucket in the shower. Certainly, from here in Mexico, flushing the toilet with drinking water seems completely absurd.


One Response to “On the world’s plumbing and related matters”

  1. Very, very disturbing. I will never travel again.

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