I still remember my first lesson in potty procedures, painstakingly explained by my mother. In the days before you had machines dispensing sanitary paper toilet covers, you would tear off pieces of toilet paper and carefully place them around the toilet seat. The goal was to never have your body come in direct contact with the seat where presumably millions of nasty germs were just lying in wait.
That was before we knew about even more nefarious means of germ-spreading, such as door handles and water faucets. And to this day I have not heard of a single person being stricken by “toilet disease. ” Ah, but if I could have only foreseen the toilet tribulations in my future!
Let’s start with most of Latin America, as well as many places worldwide, with aging infrastructure. Due to the constrained capacity of the pipes, you are warned against flushing your used toilet paper.
Instead, there is a small trash basket next to the toilet which is meant for dirty paper.
Without getting too graphic, sometimes people fold said paper in nice little packets and there is even a lid on the trash can.
Other times the trash trail is overflowing with sordidness and one must close one’s eyes and breathe –but not too deeply.
Another thing to keep in mind in many places in Latin America (and Asia as well) is that you should always carry your own package of tissues. Sometimes it is BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper) and sometimes it’s not. Never assume.
Also, make sure you have a pocketful of small change at all times. Many public places have a “pay to pee” setup and the last thing you want in your moment of urgency is to come up empty.
While most Latin American facilities have Western-style toilets with a handle for flushing, that is not always the case in other parts of the world. In places like China and India, there are squat toilets where you squat over them and do your business. It may be as simple as a hole in the ground or a more elaborate ceramic-style basin.
In my experience, this is strictly a bring your own paper deal, there is a trash can for used paper, and the conditions range from passable to oh-my-god-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding!
A note of warning: since your pants/undergarments are gathered about your ankles, care must be taken in terms of aim. It’s equally important to maintain your balance at all times.
(On a side note, I did an informal survey of my Chinese friends who have traveled abroad, asking them which type of toilet they preferred. Squatting won by a large margin, perceived as being more sanitary since your body never comes in direct contact with the toilet.)
Be forewarned, in some Asian countries, it is perfectly acceptable for men to urinate in public. And in China, many toddlers wear split-crotch pants that enable them to go wherever without lowering their pants, either by squatting in the street or having their parents hold them.
The royal flush
On to happier lavatory adventures. In many places in Asia, Europe and South America (and fancy homes throughout the world), there is a low oval basin with faucets, called a bidet, next to the toilet for cleaning one’s private parts.
However, I am partial to what I like to think of as the bidet’s more focused cousin. In a number of countries, especially in Asia, next to the toilet there is a hose with a faucet attached, affectionately referred to as the “bum gun.”
The gun has a lever that allows the user to direct a powerful spray wherever needed.
But I hit the ultimate bathroom bonanza one memorable day in a Bangkok Mall. Given my prior dealings, my expectations were low.
But, lo and behold, not only did I enter a spanking clean stall, but the toilet had all sorts of magic gadgetry to angle the water spray, adjust the pressure and dry yourself.
I heard that toilets in Japan have that and more, including heated seats and the “Sound Princess,” a flushing sound played to drown out bathroom noises. Gotta go!
Have any global bathroom escapades that maybe shouldn’t be told, but you can’t hold back? I’d love to hear them.