International Toilet Etiquette

This is a guest post by Samantha Deavin.

I’ve often arrived at an international destination, headed for the restrooms in the airport and had to take a moment to familiarise myself with the toilet situation. Whether it’s “no flushing toilet paper” signs, someone charging me to use the facilities or the disheartening sight of a drop toilet, learning about and understanding different toilet etiquettes is part and parcel of the travel experience.

Toilet talk can be taboo – but it’s important to understand different customs and cultures when it comes to the act. From different lingos to different types of facilities, it’s best to gauge the situation before you set off on your overseas adventures. For many Western countries, toilet etiquette is quite similar. Vocabulary, however, can be different. I have a clear memory as an Australian student at an international school in Amsterdam asking an American teacher if I could go to the ‘toilet’. She was horrified! In America, you use the ‘restroom’ or ‘bathroom’ – toilet is a dirty word.

While tourists will often be forgiven for a toilet etiquette faux pas, here’s a rundown of a few countries’ and cultures’ different toilet customs.

  • Australia. If you’re looking at flights to Brisbane or Sydney for an Australian adventure, then you’ll generally find a relaxed and casual toilet culture and etiquette. Australians do not commonly refer to the toilet as ‘bathroom’ or ‘restroom’. They are comfortable openly calling it a toilet, loo or the colloquial ‘dunny’. Australia’s toilets are also unique in that they have a ‘two flush’ system – one that uses less or more water depending on your movements!
  • Islamic. Countries that follow the Islamic faith follow particular rules regarding toilet use. Generally washing with water as opposed to using toilet paper is considered a ritual act of purity, and hands must be washed immediately after. It is also accepted that the left hand is used to wash oneself, and the right hand is used for handshakes. The practice of washing as opposed to toilet paper use is also common in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries. In India, it is also expected that one washes themself with their left hand and eats with their right.
  • European. It is common that in most European countries, particularly France, you will have to pay to use a public toilet. While toilet paper is readily available and able to be flushed in most areas of Europe (except Greece!), many European bathrooms include a toilet and a bidet, which is a French invention of the late 17th century that is a plumbing fixture (similar to a toilet) used to wash oneself after using the toilet. If you’ve booked flights to Paris, for example, it’s likely that your hotel bathroom will include a toilet and a bidet.
  • Asian. Most Southeast Asian countries’ plumbing systems cannot handle flushed toilet paper, and thus toilet paper must be placed in a rubbish bin next to the toilet. On the flip side to this, however, Japan has some of the most high-tech toilets in the world. Most Japanese toilets are in a bidet-style, with a jet stream for cleaning. In addition to this, many Japanese toilets also include seat warmers, deodorizers, and armrests! It’s the most comfortable and state-of-the-art toilet experience around.

Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing and embracing different cultures and lifestyles. If you encounter a different toilet etiquette or practice in a country you’re visiting, then take it in your stride and do as the locals do!

About the author:
Samantha Deavin has written numerous travel-related articles for a wide variety of online publications. She currently works at the online travel agency – CheapFlights.com.au.

Image by fedro from Flickr’s Creative Commons.  This was a sponsored post.

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5 thoughts on “International Toilet Etiquette”

  1. An interesting read, thank you. Toilets are and always will be in demand for obvious reasons. On each and every of my trips I had one or several quests for bathrooms.

    Normally, if one’s near a famous tourist attraction, the option is almost always a McDonalds or something similar. However, I understand this is the bathroom choice of many a traveler and some places have establishes their own rules in regard to toilets:

    some don’t have restrooms at all (definitely in Rome – in the vicinity of Pantheon, I think also Amsterdam)
    some require a receipt to enter (Bologna, Italy for instance)
    some charge you for it (I’m afraid I don’t remember where it was, but yes, that bathroom was definitely not free)

    On one of my last trips I was thought by a friend to enter hotels and use their lobby restrooms. 🙂

    However if nothing like that is in sight… one has to get really creative! 😉

  2. Don’t know if I can say this – my son is in India and his status this week on Facebook is “Rule Number 1 when travelling in India – if there is no toilet paper then a sock is very comfortable”. Sorry for that!!!!

  3. Very well written article, thanks.
    Some good points for travellers!
    I will definitely link back to you from my travel tips website.
    Please drop by when you can.
    holidaysforfamily

  4. Whatever the country may be, you must always be prepared with simple things tucked in your handbag or pocket when you step in to a toilet or washroom or restroom or whatever it is called.

    1. A fairly long piece of toilet paper

    2. A disposable toilet seat cover

    Both are small and light.

    You will save lot of drama !

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