One of the cultural clashes I’ve had to face during my relationship with Naveen that I never expected but found pretty hilarious is the difference between Western and Eastern bathroom habits.
Up here in Canada, where I was born and raised, the toilets are almost exclusively made in a style known as the sitting toilet (with the notable exception of the standing toilet or urinal, which is exclusively for men). In order to use this toilet, you have to move the clothing on your lower half aside, park your buttocks on the seat, wipe the graphic evidence away with the paper that is provided when you’re done and then flush the paper down. If you’re especially germophobic you might even use wet wipes after pooping for a more thorough clean.
Before meeting Naveen, I thought this process was straightforward. After all, the form should equal function, right?
One the first things Naveen asked me when he came to stay with me over the winter holiday shortly after we started dating was what to do with the toilet paper when he was done with it.
Me: “Uh, flush it down? Why, is there something else you can do with it?”
Him: “Oh, some people I know here put it in the trashcan.”
Me: “What?! Ew! Who the hell puts used toilet paper the trash? Ugh, that’s disgusting!”
Him: “Not everyone I know does, but some people do and that’s why I wanted to ask you before I did anything.”
Me: “Yeeeah… unless it’s a wet wipe or a sanitary napkin it goes down the toilet.”
Him: “I’m glad we cleared this up.”
Due to the somewhat gross nature of the conversation, I put the difference of our bathroom habits out of my head until I came to visit him at his place later on and noticed something odd by the toilet that Naveen shared with his (all Indian) roommates, which resulted in yet another hilarious encounter.
Me: “Hey, what’s with the measuring cup?”
Him: “Oh, that… well, you use it to rinse your a**. Where I come from we don’t use toilet paper and you can’t get it anywhere. Now we have it, but most of us are having a hard time adjusting, so we keep this cup here to help with the process and clean ourselves a little better after wiping.”
Me: “Are you telling me that you guys share that cup?”
Me: “Ew! You put something on your a**hole that’s touched everybody else’s a**hole!?”
Him: “I didn’t put it on my a**hole! Don’t you know how to wash?! You don’t put it directly on your a**hole!”
Me: *laughing uncontrollably now because he said a**hole so many times*
Before I met Naveen I was not completely unfamiliar with a style of toilets found in India commonly known as squat toilets; I’d actually encountered them before while I was on a family holiday in France as a teenager and had a basic idea of how to use them, but didn’t use them on the single occasion I came across them (most of the country has sitting toilets now) because I was afraid of falling into them thanks to my inability to do the squat that is required to use this commode properly. Yet, despite all this, I failed to notice or wonder why there wasn’t any toilet paper in those particular toilets even though I was also exposed to the joy that is the bidet (which my mother mistook for a foot washer) on the same trip. Nor did it ever occur to me that when the sitting toilet became far more widespread in India that its citizens wouldn’t trade in their buckets/hoses for toilet paper. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that Western toilets were an option in India, so all of this was quite a shock to me – much to my boyfriend’s amusement.
While I initially found the idea of communal buckets/hoses gross, I have to admit that I am coming around to the idea of using water instead of toilet paper because of Naveen although squat toilets will probably never grow on me for a variety of reasons. All in all, it is far more sanitary to use water to clean yourself off than paper, which is just dry touching the mess away and never really getting rid of it all. Plus, there’s also the added bonus of not having to use toilet paper, which means not going through the potentially embarrassing situation of clogging the toilet. Something I have experienced many times in the past but my boyfriend had never even heard of much less experienced before moving here.
On the other hand, it was pretty hilarious to be woken up on a Saturday morning by my boyfriend who proclaimed my toilet was ‘broken’ and having to teach a twenty-eight-year-old man how to use a plunger, so maybe there are perks to it after all.
What’s the funniest cultural difference that you and your intercultural partner have ever come across? Do you have any funny foreign toilet experiences? Tell me in the comments section below!