For reasons only known to the gods of cyberspace, I came upon multiple posts last week dealing with expat nightmares and struggles concerning foreign toilets or facsimiles. Once caught in that particular web trap I kept surfing, and even came across a blog called (I kid you not) The International Center for Bathroom Etiquette. You can spend a lot time there and find yourself well-educated in the field, but alas, no degree is offered. However, T-shirts are available.
I decided it was time for my own toilet post, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll keep it clean, more or less. Not that I have to: I’ve been around, and not in the most hygiene-oriented locales. I’ve enjoyed facilities in African and Asian villages as well as in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus . . . oh, never mind. I survived and I am a better person for it. Living abroad is an educational experience, but not necessarily a high-minded one.
I grew up in the Netherlands in various houses with the type of toilets Americans call “shelf toilets” or “inspection toilets”, terms unfamiliar to me until recently. You’ll see such a specimen on the photo at the top. (Sadly, I never had a funky seat like that one.)
If you need an explanation, here it is: “Shelf toilets” are so called because the user’s offerings land neatly and gently on a flat surface, which facilitates inspection and admiration. This in contrast to American “plunge and splash toilets” where deposits end up in a bowl of water with predictable results.
“Shelf toilets” are also common in Germany and cause all kinds of crises for hung-up Americans, who make their angst the subject of numerous posts. Here’s one called Terrifying Toilets. May I gently suggest they go to an African village and use the community latrine? It will cure their horror of “inspection toilets” forever more.
As a young child, I was fascinated with the facilities offered in the house of an aunt and uncle, who had what was affectionately called a doos, which word means box. If you look at the photo you will understand why. This box was located in a small room off the kitchen. It was kept meticulously clean, no worries. (Much to my chagrin, a brand-new updated bathroom was installed later.)
Doos: This one looks like it has been somewhat updated.
So, you ask, what happened to the . . . eh . . . deposits? They were collected once a week by a sanitation service that would go door to door. One can imagine some of the slang terms used to describe this service. I shall not translate.
To offer a contrast, here’s a photo of what is available for male passengers at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.
Now that’s cool, don’t you think? Unfortunately, I have not seen this restroom myself, as I am not of the appropriate sex. And no, the peeing gents are not being admired by all and sundry strolling along the canals. The view is a photo mural. In one of the many lady-loos I’ve visited at the Amsterdam airport the walls offered views of endless fields of blooming tulips. Very cheerful.
There’s still quite a bit of discrimination going on in my country when it comes to public toilets, especially during festivals, fairs and outdoor orgies. Have a look at this contraption for men. Clearly the Dutch aren’t bothered too much by modesty and traumatizing passing children.
© Bur Holland Used by permission
Once I started exploring the rest of the world, I became familiar with simple holes in the ground, outhouses of all sorts, communal latrines and of course the so-called squat toilets, the nightmare potty of many Westerners. Here’s one in passable condition, since I promised to keep it clean. As many of you travelers know too well, these squat toilets can be found in the most excruciatingly disgusting conditions. Photos abound on travelers’ sites.
As an expat I have had the opportunity to become extremely adept at using these types of facilities and feel I may well have earned the title of Queen of Squats. My agility came in handy once when visiting a wobbly outdoor privy somewhere deep in the Caucasus Mountains. I nearly crashed through the rotten wooden floor-with-hole and would have fallen into the fragrant abyss had it not been for my well-trained nether-region muscles. I have to tell you, I’m having trouble keeping it clean.
In some places these types of toilets are now converted to the sit-down variety. Below is an example of such a conversion.
It is (or was?) located on the premises of a restaurant and bar in Yerevan, Armenia, where I domiciled many a year. This particular one worked splendidly, at least when I made use of it. One did have to pay attention to the step-up to the throne so as not to stumble and fall face forward into the bowl.
In my various travels I also came across toilets with signs that instructed the user NOT to flush the paper. A receptacle of some sort would be available in which to deposit the used paper. If you were lucky, there was paper. (Most expat women know to carry tissues along with their Prozac and stun guns.)
At the time of this educational plumbing experience I was living in Ramallah, Palestine, in a beautiful, brand-new apartment with all the modern plumbing an expat girl might covet. There was only one little hitch: Our landlady implored us to not flush the toilet paper. Being an unbeliever, and new to the Holy Land, I decided not to heed that warning, which had a disastrous, explosive result. Again, I want to keep this clean so I will refrain from explaining further. You want to know, really? Okay, read the story here (but not while you’re eating your chocolate mousse).
And perhaps with that, I should end this post.
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You know it’s your turn now, don’t you? Tell me your toilet tales.