09 Oct Know before you go
Toilet Etiquette around the world
Visit anywhere new, and one of the things that will make or break the experience, and pretty much determine if you’ll be back for a second time, is a trip to use the facilities: otherwise known as the W.C., washroom, loo, ladies’ (or gents’) or even, in Japan, the ‘ben-jo’, Correct Toilet etiquette can be hard to know
The fact we have so many names for the same facility hints at the delicacy surrounding the subject. A good impression – cleanliness, tidiness, a pleasant smell -and your verdict of everything about the venue improves. A single bad impression, and there will rarely be any chance of making a second impression.
You have to get it right first time and keep it right all the time in this business.
Travelling adds a whole other dimension to toilet etiquette, and it pays to know the local customs if you want to avoid a disappointment… or worse. For example, try to use public toilets in Cuba and you’d better have loo roll with you. Many toilets will be without any paper.
In Mexico, while you are likely to find paper in the cubicle, you should NOT follow instinct and try to flush it away. Mexican plumbing often can’t cope and the paper will simply block the pipe. Use the buckets provided instead. The same advice applies if you are travelling to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria or the Ukraine.
In Sweden the phrase ‘spend a penny’ is still appropriate. The entry charge is a good investment in more ways than one. The local authorities use the money spent in public toilets to pay for their upkeep, which seems fair – until you’re caught in need with no small change.
Egypt is another country where you’ll need ready cash in hand when you want to go, as they will charge you for toilet paper – and for the plumber if you don’t dispose of it in the bucket. Be prepared not to flush here either.
In many modern clubs or bars it can be a bit of a challenge to work out which way to go, with traditional male and female silhouettes replaced by curious symbols, or attempts at witty subtlety that can easily be lost on you in the low lighting and send you off in the wrong direction. That isn’t a problem in China, where unisex toilets are common: but facilities can often be as basic as a hole in the floor in either toilet area.
Russia might at least offer a separate cubicle for men and women, but often they’ll be positioned side by side – and again a simple hole in the ground is frequently the extent of facilities on offer. In fact, squat toilets are commonplace in many countries, including Japan and Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, Iran, Taiwan and even the affluent Singapore,
Moving back closer to home, in Spain and other parts of Europe, the extra bowl, rather than no bowl at all, has been a cause of confusion for many. If a bidet is present, remember the larger bowl is meant for the essentials and the smaller bowl is meant for a final freshen up afterwards. If you’re visiting someone’s house do your homework to avoid creating a bad impression! And that applies in Argentina and Venezuela too, where the bidet is also popular.
In South Korea, “ajoomas” – typically older ladies – keep public toilets clean; and be warned, they are so methodical in their work that they usually won’t wait, even if you’re still busy.
In large parts of India over zealous cleaners are an issue, as there are no indoor toilets at all, let alone dirty ones; in fact, even today, there are more Indians with mobile phones than those who have regular use of an indoor toilet.
Wherever in the world there are toilets, most of us prefer a little peace and quiet when we use them, but in Muslim countries that is even more important. Here strict rules apply, although common sense and good hygiene will keep you broadly right: talking, answering greetings, or greeting others is strongly discouraged, and eating any food while on the toilet is strictly forbidden.
It’s less obvious that custom dictates you enter the facilities leading with the left foot and leave leading by the right foot.
The Qur’an also suggests washing one’s hands afterwards: good advice wherever you travel.
Here in the UK remember it’s feet on floor, never on the seat; paper in the bowl, not in the bin; and sanitary towels in the bin, never in the bowl.
Flush with all this knowledge, you’re now good to go wherever you are. Remember the job’s not over until the paperwork is done, so do send us a postcard from your travels!