A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to …the washroom . Experienced travelers know you can expect anything when answering nature’s call. If your adventures consist of trips within North America, you may experience culture shock when venturing outside your comfort zone. Mind you, we have all experienced that gross washroom in a gas station or busy fast food joint when caught short even a short distance from home. But when travel necessitates use of a passport, be prepared …
If you are staying in better tourist hotels in any area of the world, expect a western flush ( though sometimes it takes an engineer to find out where that flush mechanism is). Venture anywhere outside of the norm and you are immersed in the local way of doing business. In Asia, for instance, your experiences can range from a city with a real gold toilet (Hong Kong) to squat and reportedly, squalid, toilets in the countryside of mainland China. Japan has state of the art toilet/bidets complete with electronic controls, but has squat toilets as well. ( Squat toilets are basically a hole in the floor, hence “squat”.) In some Eurasian countrysides , public (squat) washrooms may not have toilet paper but a cup of water for cleaning yourself. Another interesting aspect that may be encountered using foreign public washrooms are signs telling you not to flush your used TP but to deposit it in the garbage. The first time I encountered this directive was in the Caribbean.
The sanitary nature of squat versus sitting is a debated topic but in my opinion, there is something to be said of a nice sit when you get to a certain age and your leg – and other muscles – are not what they used to be. A former female employee of ours would probably agree with that after catching her shoe – somehow – in a squat Men’s room toilet ( there is always a line at the Ladies, right gals?) Of course that was probably a mild experience compared to sinking in quicksand when she nipped into the New Zealand bush when short taken on a guided walking tour!
I remember in my youth that my mother covered the toilet seats with toilet paper when traveling. Nowadays I think of her when confronted with disposable seat covers in public washrooms. Our aforementioned employee, in her travels, has encountered one type of toilet in a hotel where a mechanical “hand ” came out and cleaned the seat as the toilet flushed. Fascinating but somewhat disturbing I should think,, especially if one was celebrating the local wine and subsequent hangover.
Oh, and did I mention that in some places public washrooms do not have toilet paper or sinks for washing your hands after or if they have sinks, no way of drying your hands? For our culture that spends vast quantities of money on “germ juice” as my granddaughter calls hand sanitiser, this can be a nightmare if one is not prepared.
So, some rule of thumbs when traveling to parts unknown (to you):
- Carry TP or tissue
- Carry hand wipes and/or hand sanitiser
- Carry change ( in local currency) as you may have to pay to use the facilities
- Use the washroom in your hotel or cruise ship before adventuring afar
- And don’t drink too much coffee, tea etc. before said adventures
Or just go with the flow ( pardon the pun) and experience all aspects of your visit to a different culture. You may collect some funny stories to tell.
( This originally appeared in the September e- newsletter ” Cha Cha’s World Travels”. )