Wiping with Your Hand?
In some countries, toilet paper or even bidets are not an option. Rather than using a toilet paper, in certain Muslim countries, it is required that you used a small pot of water to cleanse yourself. You use the water in the pot to rinse your…ummm…hindquarters.
This isn’t the most sanitary way to take care of business but it’s the rules of the Muslim and Hindu faith in certain parts of the world. In India, they touch the waste with their fingers and wash their hands subsequently. This circles back to why you don’t shake hands with your left with the reasons being obvious.
No ADA compliance
Don’t expect the same ADA compliance everywhere you go as it just doesn’t exist everywhere, especially places like Russia where you’ll find not only is cleanliness an issue, but toilets won’t even be handicap accessible either. Often you’ll find toilets in Russia on a raised platform.
On top of this, bathrooms in Russia, also don’t have amenities like baby changing stations or spaces for women to breastfeed their children. In the Dominican Republic, men and womens bathrooms are not even separated – they just have one bathroom with separate toilet areas.
Learn What a Bidet Is
A bidet is an object of schoolyard legend in America and very little more than that. But in a lot of countries, they've realized, "hey, we clean ourselves at the end of the day with water, why not apply that principle to the restroom, too?" Whether you're comfortable with that or not, you'll want to get used to seeing it around.
The bidet is a more effective and efficient method for cleaning your backside. Instead of using wads of paper, the bidet is like a shower for your butt. In Europe is often its own separate bowl next to the actual toilet. And it's actually now required by law in several countries to be present wherever there is a toilet.
No Talking or Reading
In many countries, making small talk in the bathroom can be taboo and should be avoided at all cost. You may get away with a small greeting like a simple, “hello,” but don’t go beyond that because even that can be dicey. People don’t want to be bothered in the bathroom. In Buddhist rules, it’s customary to cough when entering a public restroom and monks are expected to cough in response.
Islam forbids both chit-chat and reading in the bathroom. And that also goes for eating. In Judaism, reading is permitted but only if it’s a newspaper or the Torah. Reading in the bathroom general is just a bad idea though because you are getting germs on anything you bring in there and you are also taking up more time in the bathroom.
Avoid Conversation and Eye Contact
This article is supposed to be for overseas travelers, but apparently not enough people know this. American restrooms are not for small talk. Keep your eyes level and straight ahead. If at all possible, leave a spare urinal between you and the next person. If there are three urinals, don't take the middle one.
It's not exactly against the law or anything but the bathroom is just an awkward place, in general, to hang around, particularly a public restroom. So avoid the urge to be too friendly. Everyone hates you if you do this. Do not talk—at maximum, grunt in acknowledgement of a person you know.
Lifting the Seat Up
The seat rules are pretty much international but everyone seems to fudge them up anyway. If you are going to pee standing up, for the love of all things good and holy, please lift the seat up so you aren’t getting urine drops on it or missing entirely and covering up the seat with it.
And on that same note, be sure to put the seat back down when you are done. That is just plain courteous! And if there is a lid on that toilet, be sure to put the lid down as well when you flush, so that you are spraying germs everywhere when you flush, because that definitely happens.
Be Ready to Make New Friends
Africa, India, and China
Not every part of the world bears the same expectation of privacy that we do. In some rural areas, you might have to turn to a travel umbrella or a poncho if you're looking to evade prying eyes. The above urinal, for instance, can accommodate as many men as can squeeze in shoulder to shoulder.
In contrast, it's pretty customary to avoid people at all costs. If you have plenty of options where the urinals are, you want to leave some space and not go straight next to the urinal that's already in-use. That's where things get weird and awkward but don't expect that same kind of personal space.
Wear Your Toilet Slippers
Cleanliness being the cultural force that it is in Japan, it's important to remember that bathroom occurrences stay in the bathroom and are never spoken of again. Leave your house slippers at the door and step into a nice pair of toilet slippers to use the restroom. And whatever you do, don't take the toilet slippers outside of the restroom. That's just horrible. Why would you do that?
The point of the toilet slippers is to promote purity in the home. It really makes sense when you think about it. The bathroom is one of the germiest places in your home, so why would you want to spread all of the germs from your bathroom floor around the rest of your home.
The Paper Isn't Free Either
Pay toilets in Taiwan don't carry a fee for the bowl itself, but rather for the paper. And even if you don't find yourself paying for TP, you may wind up needing to grab a handful of toilet "tissues" outside the door before you even go into the restroom. Just pray that you have enough to see you through.
Not cleaning up after yourself is just gross, so that's not really an option. But since you are paying for toilet paper, you may want to stock up on some Cottonelle wipes or something. But on the bright side, it's free to pee!
Bring Your Own TP
In China, some places don't even offer toilet paper at all, which means you may need to bring your own. Due to the heavy population, it can be difficult for many places to be able to sustain the toilet paper supply. Because of this, conservation of toilet paper is highly encouraged.
Some places might provide it for you, but you don't necessarily want to count on it. Buy your own and fill your pockets, or be ready to get creative. Its always good to be prepared for anything when you go to China, because things just aren't the way they are here.
Get Ready to Squat
China and the Middle East
There's a big contingent of people right now saying that squatting to use the toilet is actually better for you, easing pressure on your various bodily systems and leading to faster, healthier potty-times. The squatting position is also said to make for easier bowl movements.
You may as well buy into it because odds are you won't have a choice but to use a "squatty potty" when you visit China and the Middle East. You might as well choose to believe you're getting something out of it. When you gotta go, you gotta go!
Mind Your Left Hand
India and the Middle East
As the world flattens, more and more people realize that no insult is meant by this. Still, there are many parts of the world—particularly in India and the Middle East—where shaking hands, eating, or doing much of anything with your left hand is considered unclean or insulting. If you're left-handed, well...have fun!
If you're left-handed, well...have fun! (Do we seriously need to go over why this particular rule of etiquette is on this list?) We'd rather not think about it too much and unfortunately we'll be going into a little more detail later on but we'll just say, some people don't have bidets or toilet paper...
Use the Brush
German toilets have a "shelf." If you're a person who likes to admire your handiwork, then this country is pretty much tailor-made for you. The problem is that not every shelf toilet actually has sufficient suction to clean the shelf under its own power, which is why every German bathroom includes a brush that you are expected to use.
In Germany, the toilet brush is almost a religious ritual. You are bound to upset a German if your bathroom is not equipped with a toilet brush. For all of us Americans, however, the German toilet is just plain alarming and disgusting to be quite frank.
Use the Princess Button
If there's any culture that can rival the U.S. for the role shame plays in society, it's Japan. Naturally, they were the ones who solved the "I'm not going until you go" problem. The princess button makes noise intended to drown out the sound of whatever it is you're doing, so anxious toilet-goers can use the facility in peace.
Because using the restroom is decidedly unladylike, according to Japanese customs, the princess button allows you to retain your dignity and grace unspoiled by the unscrupulous sounds of you, relieving your lower extremities of excreta. That being said, there have definitely been times I could use a princess button.
Admire the Luxury
The princess button isn't the only way the Japanese have used their engineering prowess in the bathroom. Their feats in toilet technology are the stuff of legend. Japanese toilets can analyze your urine content to check for illness, automatically lower the lid, warm the seat—on a schedule that learns your daily habits—and even reconfigure themselves for easier cleaning.
These toilets are so high-tech, you'll feel like you are living in a third-world country when you go back home. Who doesn't want a toilet that cleans itself? Its usually equipped with a bidet as well, which you'll also learn to love. Once you've experienced the awe and majesty that is a Japanese toilet, there's really no going back.
Don't Flush the Toilet Paper
Not every country's sewage system is built to handle everything people try to throw at it. Just as you're not supposed to flush feminine hygiene products in the U.S., you're also not supposed to flush toilet paper in many parts of the world. Instead, there will be a bin provided.
Odds are, if it's a TP bin, you'll be able to figure it out. This isn't, of course, the most sanitary way to get rid of your toilet paper but it's definitely the most disgusting way. It also comes with obvious odor problems. It's definitely gross and we don't want to talk about it anymore, so let's move on.
Be Ready to Pay
In America, there aren't really any pay toilets left. That's actually due to the work of a political advocacy group called the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America that wiped (pun intended) them out in the '0s. But fear not, these pay toilets only require a few coins.
Nowadays, we're on the honor system where shame (or a "customers only" sign) compels us to buy a small fry or a candy bar wherever we stop to pee. Other countries never had such enterprising citizens, and pay toilets are still a thing in many parts of the world. Save your coins.
To flush or Not to Flush
In South Korea, it’s a matter of choice, it seems, whether or not you should flush. You’ll find that even though you can flush wads of paper down the toilet, many locals don’t do it anyway, since many of the sewer pipes were not made to accommodate toilet paper until the ‘80s.
And since old habits die hard, you’ll find older generations not flushing paper down the toilet, electing to throw it away instead. That being said, feel free to flush it. It’s much more sanitary that way anyway. And just be sure if you are putting toilet paper into the toilet that you for sure flush it.
Flush or Pay Up
In some places, in particular Singapore, it’s actually against the law to not flush. Making public cleanliness a top priority in their country, Singapore has sought to punish the non-flushers in a way they won’t forget, imposing a hefty fine of over $150. And this isn’t a ticket you can ignore.
If you fail to pay the ticket, you could wind up in jail! That seems a huge price to pay for forgetting to flush, so perhaps its best to just get into the habit of flushing every time before you go to Singapore. The last thing you want is to go to jail over a bowel movement.
Get Ready for Some Easy Listening
According to the International Center for Bathroom Etiquette, which collects bathroom usability tips from around the world, you should be ready to listen to music while you're in the loo. Specifically, an instrumental version of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now" is apparently omnipresent.
Our love of Bacharach notwithstanding, this seems a bit much. You should also be ready for severe water conservation methods, from low-flush and no-flush toilets to "using" a tree out back. Australia may be down under, but they are always looking for the most efficient ways to get on top of the rest of the world.
Australia complicates things a bit with their two-flush system, but in an effort to conserve water, it’s actually a pretty good idea. On public toilets in Australia, you’ll find two buttons or levers for flushing that each flush a different amount of water. One flushes more and the other flushes less.
The idea is that the one button or lever that uses less water is for liquid waste, while the other that flushes more water is for solid waste. This system not only conserves water but also allows for reduced running costs, despite the fact that the initial cost is higher than with a single-flush system.
Words for Toilet
If you are going abroad, you might want to be somewhat familiar with the many terms used in reference to the bathroom, because they vary from country to country. In the United States, you often hear bathroom or restroom, and in some places it might be referred to as the washroom, especially closer to Canada.
In Japan, the bathroom is referred to as “ben-jo.” In Australia and New Zealand, dunny is a common term for bathroom but they also just say “toilet” sometimes too. “Loo” is used in Australian, but even more in the United Kingdom and Ireland. If you want to sound a little posher, you might ask the Brits where the “lavatory” is.
Where to Find the Cleanest Bathrooms
If you are traveling about, just as with places here in the United States, you’ll find some bathrooms are much cleaner than others. Places you’ll want to go include libraries, malls, department stores, and high-end supermarkets. Best of all, you can get into these bathrooms for free.
You can also get into restaurant or café bathrooms, but generally, you’ll want to buy something before you use these facilities. In other facilities, you may find that the bathroom cleanliness is not quite up to standard, particularly American standards.
Carry Hand Sanitizer and Bacterial Wipes
Bathrooms overseas don’t always quite have the same sanitation standards as we have here in the states. That being said, you want to come prepared no matter where you are going to be. Carrying hand sanitizer and bacterial wipes is a good idea for a number of reasons.
You can use antibacterial wipes for the seats and handle to eliminate germs from those areas. And for your hands where soap is not available, you’ll be available, you can use your wipes or hand sanitizer. It’s just a good idea to come prepared and do what you can to avoid getting sick during or after your trip.