Travelers' Toilet Trauma: Examining the Squat-and-Aim Toilet
|You can try to sit on a squat-and-aim toilet...but we wouldn't advise it.|
We recently received this message from a reader:
Dear Mr. Steves,
I have traveled to Thailand a few times over the past 3 years and then more recently to Indonesia. Each time, I carefully consulted several guidebooks and did some research online. I have come to realize that there is one REALLY BIG issue that we Americans need to know about that the guidebooks and other sources don't cover very well. That is...the common existence of squat toilets and how to use them.
I mean, this is a really, really big deal. It's not something we Americans know much about, but it is important. When you gotta go, and there is just basically just a hole in the ground and no toilet paper — and you aren't prepared for this — well, this is a problem. How do you actually use such a "facility"? For example, am I supposed to take my pants off beforehand, and if not, do I risk peeing on my pants? And am I really expected to use my hand and then that bucket? What if I bring my own toilet paper, will that cause a plumbing problem? (I ask this, because even all the Starbucks in Bangkok — which don't have squat toilets — have signs saying not to put the used toilet paper into the toilet — but into the basket instead. What is that all about?!). And one more thing: I am not sure that someone in their 50's like me can even squat down — my knees probably won't take it.
So how about some frank, specific discussion of this issue? Americans need to know.
Here's Rick's response:
In most of the world, people do not sit to "use the toilet." Even older people are comfortable squatting — which, in the developing world, is considered more hygienic than sitting on something some other naked butt just sat on. Americans and other First World residents have bodies that often cannot comfortably squat. I've seen entire villages in Indonesia squatting on nothing but their haunches — as they would if going to the toilet — just to relax and watch the village TV. I've also seen signs on airplanes in the developing world with a stick figure explaining to people who have never encountered a Western-style toilet that, in this case, they should not stand on the rim and squat while using this contraption, but actually sit on it.
About the paper: Much of the world simply uses their fingers, and then rinses them off. First World residents are accustomed to a more material lifestyle, and use paper to do this. When there is a basket next to a squat toilet (or any toilet, for that matter) that is filled with dirty paper, that's an indication that the plumbing isn't strong enough to handle paper (as in many American yachts). If a tourist throws paper into the toilet, it often gums up the works, causing someone a very dirty job. On a related note, in much of the developing world, babies don't use diapers. (But that's a whole other essay.) In the name of "being civilized," many Americans incorporate things into their way of living that would be unsustainable if all six and a half billion people on the planet did the same.