I’ve officially lived in four countries now. Yes, I’m counting Taiwan, even though I’ve just arrived. I’m going to have two years here, people! Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that different countries have different rules, regulations, and expectations involving restroom usage, so I thought I’d compare and contrast the toilet culture of all four countries.
I believe the insights will be invaluable to cultural understanding.
Czech toilets are similar to American toilets in that they are Western-style—not squat—toilets. Cool, right? Nothing new here.
The Czech Republic has at least two rules for toilet usage which are unusual for North Americans.
The first is that if you need to use a public restroom, you usually have to pay. There are little old women sitting in booths outside of public restrooms who will point at a sign saying 5-15 Koruna. You’ve got to fork over the coins before entering a restroom at a McDonald’s, a train station, or a park bathroom. Sometimes you’ll find an automated machine instead of a bathroom attendant, which is great because you can sneak under the bars if you’re drunk, coin-less, or desperate for the John.
I’ve heard this practice of paying to use public restrooms is linked to the Czech Republic’s communist past, but as of yet have been unable to substantiate this claim.
The second is that in a lot of public restrooms, you must grab toilet paper outside before heading into the stall. I’m not sure I understand why, but this is useful to note, so you don’t find yourself roll-less upon entering the stall.
And as a side note, I’d like to mention that quality of toilet paper in the Czech Republic is abysmal. You often feel like you’re wiping your bum with scratchy hand towels rather than TP, but perhaps I just have a sensitive hiney.
In the States, toilets are Western-style and in general TP quality is quite high, although I’ve noticed California has unusually crumbly TP. I’m not sure why this is, and if anyone could enlighten me, I’d be happy to know.
One strange tenant of U.S. toilet culture is that in the States toilet paper is meant to be flushed. I’ve noticed that in a lot of countries used TP is tossed in the trash can, but in the States, you’d probably receive a weird look for this behavior. In most areas of the U.S., TP flushing is not only acceptable, it’s expected.
While a traveler might think he or she would find mostly squat toilets in Vietnam, I’ve found that the opposite was true. I only saw a handful of squat toilets during my stay, even when traveling to more rural areas. Most toilets that I came across were Western-style, which was a relief for me.
Toilet paper in Vietnam was amazing. I’m not sure why, but the TP I bought in Hanoi was usually better than the TP I’ve bought at home in U.S. Even cheap Vietnamese TP was super soft and durable.
Public toilets aren’t as common as in other parts of the world. Sometimes I’d be desperate for a restroom, go into a café, ask for the bathroom, and be told there was none. Or sometimes I’d be lead out the back door or up some stairs into somebody’s private bathroom for a pee. This happened regularly. I’m not sure why public toilets aren’t common, but in a country where food poisoning is a common occurrence, a lack of public restrooms can be a real problem for a tourist with traveler’s tummy.
One last aspect of Vietnamese toilet culture that will be unusual for many tourists is the bum gun. It’s what it sounds like—a gun, attached to a hose, which when squeezed, shoots pressurized water at your—erhm—bum. It may sound gross, but I actually miss the bum guns of Vietnam. It’s the perfect hands-free way of getting squeaky clean.
TP in Taiwan is awful. It’s usually dispensed in single sheets, similar to a box of tissues, meaning that if you have a mess to clean up, you’ll spend several minutes pulling tiny and super thin TP sheets out of a dispenser, trying to gather enough to wipe with.
And toilet paper in Taiwan is not flushed. Trash cans in Taiwanese toilets are always over-flowing because everyone throws their paper away. I assume it has to do with not blocking pipes or possibly avoiding pollution on a tiny island. Either way, when in Rome, throw your TP in the trash can.
Squat toilets are the most common type of toilet in Taiwan. I do see lots of Western-style toilets as well, but even in fancy restaurants or shopping areas, you’ll commonly find squat toilets. If you’re at a normal coffee shop or office building, then you’ll almost certainly be faced with a squat toilet. Handy tip: If you’re squat toilet has a porcelain back, then that’s what you are supposed to face while using the John. This is to prevent splash back.
Every culture has its own unique approach to restroom behavior, and I think having a good understanding of a country’s toilet culture is an important facet of understanding a culture as a whole. Or at the very least, it’s an important way to make sure you don’t find yourself in an embarrassing or messy situation while abroad.
Noticed Any Weird Toilet Culture?
Have you noticed any weird toilet rules or expectations for the restrooms in your home country or or the countries you’ve visited? Add your own toilet tales to the comment section below!