Toilets. We all use them, but we rarely give them a thought unless we can’t find one when we’re out, or if it’s not working at home. Having done some travelling, I’ve noticed that facilities around the world are different. It’s an interesting topic, I think. In celebration of World Toilet Day (November 19), I thought I’d share my toilet experiences while travelling.
In North America, and here in Northern Ireland, it’s not too difficult to find a place to relieve yourself when you need one. And there’s usually toilet paper and a way to dry your hands after you wash. However, these things we consider to be essential are not always on offer abroad. In fact, some places are very similar to the old outhouses on farms and while camping in my youth. I never was a fan of them, I’m not sure anyone really is with flies buzzing about.
Toilets in Europe and the UK
During my 2000 trip through Europe I saw all sorts of toilets along the way. The border between Russia and Belarus wasn’t much better than a hole in the floor; it was really dire – and I don’t think there was even a place to wash your hands. Yuck. The campground toilets in Scandinavia were clean and practical. And in western Europe, there were some interesting designs.
One ‘stop’ in Monte Carlo had a self-cleaning seat! After you flushed, the seat would lift up, swivel around and be cleaned thoroughly between each use.
Here in the UK, there are some public facilities that you must pay for before you can enter, and if you’re not done within 15 minutes you’ll be greeted with a shower as well – the whole interior of these stand-alone toilets are sprayed down between users.
Then there’s the Loo With a View on the Copeland Islands. Watch the video and let me know what you think of the local accents!
Moving over to Japan, I was a little leery of what I would have to experience.
Toilets are made to sit, stand at, or squat over. And in different countries even the squatting toilets are used differently. Do you face forward or back? How do you flush, can you flush? Sometimes travelling can be a tricky endeavour!
And if you’re a woman in trousers, life gets more difficult as you try to both balance, hold your clothing, and aim. If you’re not careful, you can end up looking like a fool with wet clothing on your way out.
My Japanese apartments all had western-style toilets in them. Work was a little different. Most private schools I worked in had Japanese-style toilets. This is the toilet at my first location, where you need to step up a step and balance to use it:
My first apartment had an interesting toilet, it was western-style, but there was a little sink above where you washed your hands as the water came from the wall into the tank, then with the following flush the water you had used for washing your hands is used for the flush. A great way to be environmental. There was also another, larger sink in an adjoining room, if you’d rather use that.
Some toilets in Japan were outfitted with a warm seat and controls to help cleanse you after your ‘business’. As toilets are often along outside-facing walls, they can get very cold in the winter without central heat! I really longed to have one of these my first winter in Japan.
During my brief trip to China, I took a tour through a Hutong area that was set to be raized before the Olympics. The facilities in these traditional areas can be smelled before they’re seen. All of the houses in the area are grey, but the toilet blocks are painted pink so you know where they are.
The home we visited had a living room, a very tiny kitchen area, and a bedroom. Homes now have running water, and may even have a clothes washer, but they don’t have toilets so the residents must plan ahead and walk a couple of blocks and wait in line to use the congregational toilets. Personally, I couldn’t imagine doing that in the middle of a wet winter before work.
Here’s a sign advertising a 4* public toilet in China! And I’m happy to say that I concur with that rating.
My tip to you is if you’re in the East and you want your best chance to use a clean and Western style toilet, look for McDonald’s or Starbucks, as in my experience the toilets were usually the best around for us Westerners. Just don’t forget to bring your own tissues as most times toilet paper is not provided (and in Beijing you don’t put your toilet paper down the toilet – it goes in a bin beside)!
One interesting thing of note is that the squat toilets in Japan and China are different in that you face opposite directions when you squat.
If you’d like to see more unique and typical toilets around the world, check out this article by Hostel World.