Let’s talk toilets.
After three years of marathon travel, we are here to tell you that all toilets are not created equal worldwide, and we are not just talking about how they look and flush.
They are housed differently and decorated differently. Toilet paper is provided differently (or not at all) and flushed/tossed differently. Some cultures take their bathrooms seriously; others find them a source of humor. Toilets are not only universal and functional, it turns out. Toilets are photo opps.
For today’s Partout, we interrupt our South American idyll to plumb potties we have known and shot.
Teaching Toilets, Pretty Potties
In some locations, public toilets are treated as canvases for public art.
Surely that is the case in Groningen, the Netherlands. What else would explain these athletes eternally cavorting around this public potty along one of the city’s main canals? (Speak up, Dutch readers!)
Meanwhile, in Colombia’s coffee country on the other side of the pond, the blank wall of this public toilet obviously proved irresistible for extending the splendors of the Andes and its bird life.
Toilets can be educational, too.
During its dire water shortage, Cape Town, South Africa, offered many water conservation lessons, including a potty ditty plastered in toilet stalls.
For its part, the United Arab Emerates WC supplied some little-known nuggets to enlighten stall-sitters. (Thank you, IML Group, for making the difference.)
Speaking of Chinese emperors, Louis captured this helpful lesson years ago in Chendu.
Greek island restrooms won the sweepstakes with us for consistently providing more fashionable interiors than any we had ever seen elsewhere. In three weeks on more islands than we can remember, it seemed no head was too humble for a flourish of art, greenery or decorate style.
Some loos even offer views. That selfie at the top of the blog? It was taken of us at the mirror of a washroom in Mexico City where a restaurant strategically positioned the glass to provide a reflected view of the skyline to handwashers.
Amusing Loos, Confusing Loos
Who would have thought of a potty stop as a comedic interlude to travel? And yet they do.
They also baffle.
Doris spent her first week in Oman trying to figure out what to do with the faucet and hose that hung from the walls of public bathrooms. Only when she got the courage to ask another tourist in the opera house in Muscat did she learn the contraption was a “bum gun” to be used for … well, the words speak for themselves.
And then there was the WC decor in a prominent Cuenca restaurant we visited last week with visiting Debbie and Barry of Long Island.
Louis emerged for a posprandial potty stop with this photo from the men’s room.
Doris emerged with this one.
We don’t even want to begin plumbing the thinking behind gasoline nozzels in the men’s room and sewing machines in the women’s, but it definitely illustrates why it is important never to leave your cell phone at the table when heading to the toilet.
Let’s Talk Toilet Paper
Nothing but nothing, however, gets the creative juices of toilet owners going like the task of instructing/warning/admonishing and otherwise begging visitors to their porcelain gods to please, please, please not flush the toilet paper.
We cannot begin to do justice to their creativity, but here are a few illustrations.
Even the normally reserved Provençal French get into the act with goldfish and telephone bills, bilingually no less.
No Place Like Home
Alas, there is a sad PS to our globe-trotting washroom tours.
In all our travels, no matter how far and no matter how underdeveloped or poverty-stricken the destination, we never, ever, anywhere, encounter public bathrooms as dirty and derelict as the ones we routinely find back home. It is the rare water closet abroad that is not a model of good hygiene, pride of place, respect for customers and plain old good taste. Whether amused, bemused, educated or simply relieved, we leave them thinking well of our foreign hosts. Coming home, we often shudder at the impressions visitors to the United States must take home from their potty stops.
Toilets talk. America’s could use a language lesson!
Tips from the Partout toolbox: Speaking of the multi-purposes of cell phones, ours hold scans of our passport photo pages. The scans are as good as the real thing for identification purposes other than flights, which enables us to leave the essential documents themselves safely behind in hotel safes or locked suitcases in our AirBnBs.
COMING SOON! On the Trail of Incas