Cultural Differences in Bathrooms Around the World

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Part of the adventure of travelling around the world is experiencing cultural differences. Nowhere are cultural differences more pronounced than in the bathroom. Bathrooms have been held in almost sacred esteem in the USA forever—they are monuments to American Capitalism. Not necessarily so in the rest of the world.

Bathroom or toilet facilities go by many names: WC (water closet), loo,Β baΓ±o (Spanish), benjo (Japanese), crapper, shitter, latrine (well you get the idea). I’ve used them all—from cat-hole trenches in the field, to outhouses, to ceramic trench toilets in Japan to virtual palaces in five-star hotels. Same function, different ambience.

Our hostel, Cathedral Guesthouse, here Varna, Bulgaria features the all-inclusive bathroom setup: the shower is right next to the toilet and sink. No shower door or curtain just a drain in the bathroom floor. Not impossible but interesting. First you have to turn on two separate switches for the small water heater (it takes about 30-minutes for the water to heat up). Next move everything out of the bathroom you don’t want getting wet (especially toilet paper). This is very important. Now you can begin your shower.

All-in-One Bathroom Arrangement

Fortunately our private room includes a private bath cumbersome as it might be. Many times we have rooms with a shared bath and those can be a real nightmare depending on the hostel and the guests. Young men, especially, can be real slobs—but we’ve met more than a few women who can match them in depravity. Toilets not being flushed (yellow or brown) and flooded floors are the most egregious crimes—trash left for others to deal with is another nuisance. So a private bath, no matter how primitive, is always appreciated by the Muppet Brothers. Our bathroom here is clean and tidy just a little awkward to use.

Field Notes: Many places in Latin America need you to place your used toilet paper in a can next to the toilet. Toilets using a septic system are easily clogged with flushed toilet paper. If the cans aren’t regularly emptied the overflow and smell can be a little disquieting for the uninitiated. Also, travellers from countries where this cultural difference is observed sometimes carry the practice over to countries where it’s not practiced—a real faux pas. For example I saw some young Latinos trying to discard their used toilet paper in the paper towel bins in Galway, Ireland. Ireland is a flushing country not a bin country. SFD

9 responses to “Cultural Differences in Bathrooms Around the World

  1. Wondered when this type of post would arrive LOL. I too have learned the bathroom ‘surprise’.

    In a small city in Brazil my shower water was heated by an electric hot plate and switch. I watched in horror as the water pored over the red, glowing, circular pan. Eventually I screwed up my courage and stuck my finger under the shower head…and somehow survived.

    Of course I was younger then.

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