The need to use the bathroom to relieve oneself is universal, but toilets and bathrooms can be very different around the world. Hygiene routines, cleanliness standards, plumbing systems, and sanitation systems very widely from one place to another. A Japanese bathroom is quite different from a washroom in Yemen and a toilet in China is likely to operate differently then a French toilet. While most resorts and hotels that cater to American and Europeans will have standard flushing toilets with toilet paper, local toilets can be quite different. Let’s explore toilets around the world!
The Middle East
What is commonly referred to as the “Middle East” in the United States and Europe encompasses a huge region with widely varied social practices and ethnic groups. While some places have western style sit down/flush toilets, the most common style of toilets in the Middle East is the squat toilet. A squat toilet is also known as a “Turkish Toilet”. Squat toilets consist of a toilet bowel or pan that is at floor level. The toilet may have a water cistern to flush with or may have a bucket of water. Instead of toilet paper, most people in Middle Eastern countries use water to clean themselves after using the toilet. There will either be a spray hose or bucket provided for this purpose. Interesting Fact: In the last 20 years, Dubai has become one of the most glamorous international destinations with extravagant hotels, malls, and the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Until recently, many building actually trucked their sewage away because the buildings were not hooked up to the municipal system and the municipal system was could not handle the volume of waste. Dubai has since invested in waste management infrastructure and most building are hooked up to the municipal sewage system.
Other then in the hotels catering to westerners, the majority of China has squat toilets. The squatting position naturally releases pelvic muscles, and some say that it is an easier and healthier way to eliminate waste, especially for people with digestive problems. Public toilets in China often have no walls or doors. Chinese toilets also lack toilet paper. Some public toilets have an attendant who charges for toilet use and sells toilet paper. Most people bring their own toilet paper and dispose of it in trash cans, not in the toilet. Some Chinese toilets are not hooked up to a municipal sewer system. These toilets are just holes above a pit that gets emptied, sometimes irregularly. In some place in the Chinese countryside, the outhouse is located over a pigsty, though the sty toilet has been discouraged by Chinese officials in recent years. Chinese officials are raising the standards of Chinese public toilets as a result of complaints from tourists.
Japan deserves its own section because Japanese toilets are some of the most sophisticated toilets in the world. These highly developed toilets feature heated seats, a bidet function, and a dryer function. No hands, toilet paper, or wipes are needed. It is not surprising that the Japanese have created the most inventive and sanitary toilets in the world; the Japanese have a history of being at the forefront of waste sanitation. Since 300 BCE, Japanese settlements have had sewer systems. Feudal Edo, now Tokyo, had an elaborate system to manage human waste and use it as fertilizer. While the traditional squat toilet was once the most common toilet in Japan, today less then 10% of the toilets in Japan are squat toilets and over 80% of Japanese people have combination bidet/western style toilets in their homes.
All of Western Europe uses typical American/Western style toilets, though older toilets might have a pull cord instead of a handle. You’ll often see squat toilets in Greece, Romania, and Turkey. If you are anywhere in the former USSR or south eastern Europe, toilet paper goes in a trash can, not the toilet. While a European toilet is the same as the standard porcelain American toilet, European bathrooms often feature an extra fixture: the bidet. The bidet was invented in France sometime in the late 1600s. Today, bidets are common plumbing fixtures in Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese homes.
Latin America/South America
While western style, sit-down toilets are the norm in most parts of Latin America, disposing of toilet paper in the toilet is not allowed. The plumbing systems of most Latin American cities and towns simply cannot process toilet paper. Flushing toilet paper will result in backups and clogs. Most households keep a trashcan beside the toilet for used toilet paper disposal. Even so cosmopolitan a city as Rio de Janeiro has significant plumbing issues. Much of Rio de Janeiro’s sewage flows into Guanabara Bay without any treatment, causing severe health concerns for the sailors who will be participating in the 2016 Olympics hosted by Rio de Janeiro.
In Northern Africa, toilets are follow the western style sit down toilet. On the other hand most African countries use squat toilets. In sub-Saharan Africa, many people in rural areas lack any toilet facilities whatsoever. People must go outdoors, which causes many sanitation issues. What toilets exist in these areas are often pits. Again, hotels and establishments catering to foreigners will often have western style sit down toilets.
In the Air, At Sea, and in Space
Modern airplane toilets use a Teflon coated toilet bowl and extremely strong suction to pull waste to a holding tank. Toilets on boat work with a complex pump and valve system. Obviously, it is important to keep seawater out of the boat while disposing of waste. Submarine toilets are even more complicated because submarines are under enormous pressure. It takes complicated engineering to actually push the waste out of the submerged vessel. Toilets in space use vacuum pressure to function properly in the absence of gravity.
Whether people have access to a toilet and what kind of toilet they use can say much about their life and history. Toilets around the world range from non-existent to primitive to basic to something resembling a science fiction film. What toilets people use also largely depends on what municipal plumbing is available. It is fascinating that there are still millions of people eliminating in the wilderness or even in streets while others are using some of the most advanced plumbing, electrical, an computer technology available to power their home toilet. You can see the history of the toilet just by looking around the globe.