Last time I wrote about food. This time I will write about toilets. What goes in must come out. If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.
Thus, when you travel one of the most important challenges is finding a toilet. One lucky fact is that, next to “OK,” probably the most recognizable word in the world is “toilet” (or some similar version of that word or the word “WC”). Adding a question mark or gesture creates, luckily, an understandable question: “Toilet?”
As we travel around the globe, we have confronted a variety of interesting situations toilet-wise. We eased into the “world of toilets” with the Holland-American Cruise line which was just like home. In Western Europe, the biggest question was how to find one. We soon learned in Spain, for example, that it was best to rely on buying an espresso. With that decision you had three benefits in one: a delicious espresso, some nice people-watching, and free access to the toilet. In the other European cities we visited there were actually some public toilets scattered around, but you had to know where they were, so cafes were the best bet there too.
We noticed a good technological innovation in Europe that has not reached home yet, the two-button flusher on the back of the toilet,: press one button to flush “number one” and two buttons (with more water) to flush “number two.” This saves water. Why don’t we have this?
There is also that extra bowl you find in many European bathrooms, especially in France. There is the sink, the toilet, and “that other thing” (called a bidet). Americans get perpetually confused with what to do with this item: pee, wash feet, wash clothes, or what? (I won’t go into it here…)
Toilets got more interesting as we crossed Asia and got into Siberia. There we confronted new toilet challenges, beyond where to find one, in particular the squatting toilet. With this toilet, you place your feet beside the bowl and squat down. This is probably the most prevalent form of toilet world-wide, and I have read that it is healthy. It certainly keeps you limber!
Tour guides must be constantly aware of how to plan for toilet availability. Not paying attention to this issue probably can lead to lots of complaints and fewer tips. (They must teach a course on getting clients to the toilet at the right time in “tour guide school.”) Our first Chinese tour guide gave a fifteen minute “toilet lecture” on our first day in the country. The Chinese do not seem to be a prudish people; she was very comfortable discussing toilets at length in front of a large mixed group of males and females. She said that she had a four level classification system for toilets, with those ranked “1” as the worst and those ranked “4” as the best. Grade 1 toilets are co-ed, squat toilets with no doors and no toilet paper. (“We don’t take our customers to those.”) Grade 2 toilets are co-ed, squat, and there are doors but no paper. (“We only take our customers there when someone is really desperate.”) Grade 3 toilets are single sex with doors, but no paper. (“This is what we usually have available for our customers.”) Grade 4 toilets are single sex, and with paper. (“These are really great toilets!”)
We listened to her talk, and someone (a female) shyly raised her hand to ask this question. “What about sit toilets vs. squat toilets? Does that affect your grade?” Our guide laughed at that question and answered, “In China those sit toilets are for handicapped people or Westerners. They usually have those in big hotels, and you will find one or two in each big tourist bathroom. You can use it if you want to.”
It is amusing to me to see the American and Western European ladies lined up to use the “handicapped” toilet while there are empty stalls for the squat toilets. Perhaps because of my time in Africa and other less developed countries, I am usually happy for any kind of toilet. “When you got to go, you got to go.” Call it a free yoga class. (And I always carry a wad of tissues in my pocket.)