Monday, July 6, 2015

When You've Got To Go, You've Got To Go

It's a fact : all toilets are not created equal.  In my travels around the world, I have *ahem* relieved myself on six continents, and let me just tell you that the experience varies greatly from place to place.  Now, lest you think me indelicate for discussing such matters, let me remind you that this is the one subject with which every single traveler will eventually have to deal.  So we might as well put it out there.

I have used everything from a bush to a hole in the ground to a squatty potty to a super-duper-multiple-button-controlled-water-squirting-and-warm-air-blowing Japanese toilet, and while they all get the job done, some experiences are definitely more pleasant than others.

When we lived in Italy in 2007, Kinley and I were fascinated with the various ways that toilets in Italy flushed.  We often had to stand in the bathroom for several minutes before we figured out how the crazy things worked, so we decided to take a picture each time we came across a different mechanism.  Here are a few.
This is the most common flush type we saw.  Often, the button would have two parts - a small button for, um, "Number 1" and a larger part for.....well, larger jobs.
This one took us a while to figure out.  It flushed with a foot operated button on the wall.
This one had a button on the wall.  (We were in Venice at Carnivale, so Kinley has confetti in her hair and is dressed in costume.)

Public toilets are much more difficult to locate in Italy, so usually we would go into a coffee shop where I would buy an espresso and then ask to use the toilet.  Buying the espresso (or macchiato or something) is an essential step since all over Italy restrooms are only for customers.  The good thing about Italian espresso is that it's meant to be shot, not sipped.  You knock that bad boy back in one quick motion, and then you're off to do your business.  (Of course, you're going to need another bathroom pretty soon after downing that shot so you'd better be on the lookout for another coffee shop as you leave.)

And then, of course, there is the European obsession with making you pay for the privilege of relieving yourself.  Now, there are some cases in which I am actually grateful for this custom.  In those bathrooms where a custodian is keeping the whole place spic and span, mopping each stall after it's used and spraying the whole place with disinfectant every five minutes, I'll gladly plonk down 20 pence to do my business.  But recently, I've used toilets where my money must only be padding city government pockets because the smell alone would knock you over.

I can remember when Daddy used to refer to pay toilets when he thought something was an unpopular idea.  He'd say, "Well, that will go over like a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward!"  A couple of frantic trips to the loo, desperately digging through my purse for change, trying to decide exactly which foreign coins were which, brought that idiom to life for me in a big way.
Gotta go in a bad way?  Better be sure you have change!
Well, at least there's a change machine nearby.  And in the background, the sign indicates that the disabled and mothers changing their babies' diapers can go in a different toilet for free!

Mother Nature's call is even more problematic in Asia where we have to use what we no-so-affectionately refer to as the Squatty Potty.

(This photo is from and I borrowed it from this blog.)

It took me literally years to decide which direction you're supposed to squat - towards the hole or towards the door of the stall.  I made my decision (toward the hole), but I can't guarantee it's the correct one.  Flushing is accomplished by filling the little bowl with water and pouring it down the squatty potty.  Effective but not elegant.

It took me even longer to figure out why, in some Asian public bathrooms that did have one token Western-style toilet, there would be dirty smudges on the seat.  In 2010, I saw this sign in a public toilet in Malaysia.

And then the evidence that the sign had been completely ignored and someone had climbed up on that throne and squatted.  For reals.  Now all was clear to me.
I could tell you far more than you'd care to read about foreign bathroom experiences (toilet training a toddler in Thailand, what to do when you're at Disneyland Paris and your child is trapped in a stall with a ceiling-to-floor door, what you do with those kitchen sink sprayers you might find hanging by the toilet), but I'll spare you.  Because, of course, all this talk of toilets has made me need a potty break.


  1. Well stated, my dear! My favorite image is of a little Asian woman climbing up on a commode seat as though it is a squatty-potty! That has to be more of a challenge to her than any of the others to you or me. ;-)

    1. I want to tell the poor girl, "Just put down some toilet paper and sit yourself down. You'll never go back to squatting if you give it a try just once!"

  2. Ok, now I've got to know which child was locked in the Disney bathroom & just how you solved that problem! LOL

    1. It was Kinley when she was 5. Here's the shortened version. 1) Curse yourself for not paying more attention in your high school French class. 2) Curse your husband for learning German. 3) Run out into the hallway in a semi-panicked state and find a rather bewildered-looking French maid (minus the sexy costume) and speak English loudly and desperately to her while gesturing wildly toward the bathroom. 4) Lead the maid to the scene of the crime, and stare blankly when she explains in French what she plans to do. 5) Stand in the bathroom reassuring your child through the locked door that something is happening even though you have no idea what the solution is going to be. 6) Wait for a long time, but don't give up since you'd just have to go through the whole routine again with another French speaker. 7) Curse yourself some more. 8) Breathe a sigh of relief when a French handyman shows up to take the door off its hinges!

    2. Oh my! What an experience! Makes me glad that public restroom stall doors here can be crawled under by small children if they get locked in! Lol

  3. How glad I was for FREE public restrooms was the first thing I said when returning from Europe! My sister and I would often play rock, paper, scissors or decide who had to pee bad enough to use up our change!

    1. That is hilarious! I must admit that I made Knox duck under a turnstile the other day when he had to go a second time in about 10 minutes. I am NOT paying twice for the same dirty toilet.