Crap, this blog could be distasteful!
I have been thinking about this blog for weeks. My good judgment side keeps saying "Don’t do it. Bad for the reputation. Shows poor taste." However, my traveler side keeps saying, "This is something people really need to know about."
So okay, out with it: The subject is the bathroom. We are spoiled in Madison, and in America. Lots of bathrooms you can use in any public place. Shopping centers, restaurants, parks, office buildings. Nice clean bathrooms. Spacious, handicapped accessible, brightly lit, modern fixtures, soap, nice toilet paper, ventilation, and on and on, bathrooms.
Not so in the rest of the world. And if you are unprepared, you will find yourself in trouble. Big time. And that includes places like Europe.
While Europe does have better facilities than most, and some of Japan’s put our facilities to shame, Europe does have its weaknesses. First, it is harder to find facilities that are really public facilities. Some places are open to the public and have an attendant who charges a fee if you want to use it.
Old buildings don’t necessarily have to be renovated when a new business moves in. I have been in new-owner restaurants in Paris that were pretty tiny. As far as paper amenities, you should carry your own. Europe does have some wonderful facilities — staffed, and very up to date, but I still rank our overall conveniences a little higher than European facilities.
We certainly have more access to facilities than in Europe. A certain friend of mine decorated the outside for the French Automobile Association in Paris when he couldn’t find anywhere to relieve himself inside the facility.
In some European countries, you are strongly encouraged not to flush for yellow — only brown. (Probably a good idea for all, considering the shortages of water.) And in some places, they do not want you to dispose of soiled toilet paper in the toilet, but rather in a trash container next to the toilet (usually with a covered lid.)
It’s been a while since I have been in China, but my friends tell me that my experiences are still valid. In China, we are talking about a totally different set of benchmarks. Stay in a luxury hotel, and you might even be sitting on a heated toilet seat. But go outside your hotel and you may literally be looking at hole in the ground. About five-inches round. No seat, no porcelain, just a hole in the ground.
I will never forget the look on my wife’s and sister’s faces when they came back from their initial experience outside the hotel. First, they would have dressed quite differently had they known what they would be using (no jump suit and probably not slacks, considering the floor), and second, the absence of toilet paper was another shocker. In many parts of the world, the women are fascinated by the American habit of toilet paper.
So here are the rules for wherever you go:
- Bring Purell or any brand of hand sanitizer. You may or may not find water, and soap may be even scarcer.
- Always, always have a pack of tissues in your pocket or purse. You never know when you may need it. Some European tissue is comparable to crepe paper (perhaps a pun?).
- Women traveling to unique locations should carry a disposable funnel. These are paper funnels that make life a lot easier. They are available from Magellans, a catalog and website for travelers.
- Make sure you go before you leave your hotel. In fact, make sure you go whenever you see a relatively clean facility. You may not see another for hours.
Hopefully, I haven’t grossed you out and sullied my name any further. But if you follow my advice and are prepared when you travel, I will completely be okay with you not thinking of me.
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