To quote the popular children’s book – everyone poops. For travellers this means that every trip involves a shorter trip to a foreign bathroom, and what you find there can be surprising.

Austrian Toilets (Image courtesy of glasseyes view@ Flickr)

Trips to the loo throughout Europe were uneventful until we arrived in Vienna. In the bathroom of a McDonalds, I was faced with two doors bearing no signage other than the word ‘Herren’ on one and ‘Damen’ on the other. With no stick man or stick woman or any colour coding to guide me I had to decide based on which word sounded most like ‘women’. Herren contained the word ‘Her’, but Damen contained the word ‘Dame’. I decided on Herren and swung the door open, a quick glance at the urinal and I retreated to the Damen door, suddenly recalling The Herr’s and Frau’s from the Sound of Music.


Parisian Sanisette (Image courtesy of Jason Whittaker @ Flickr)

Paris was the other European city with a tricky toilet, the Sanisette, a self-contained public toilet with a door that opened at the touch of a button and then slid closed behind me. I was carrying a candle in a glass jar that was too large to fit in my bag and looked around for a shelf to rest it on. Finding none I placed it on the floor and promptly forgot about it until I had exited the toilet and the door had closed. I tried to get back in, but was pissed off to discover that I couldn’t as the Sanisette is a self-cleaning toilet and had started its wash cycle. It was a couple of minutes before it finished and I could retrieve my dripping jar.


Japanese washlet control panel (Image courtesy of Matthew McVickar @ Flickr)

While the Sanisette is pretty advanced it has nothing on the washlet, the Japansese high-tech toilet with the baffling array of buttons with mysterious symbols. Functions include a heated seat, an anus wash (called the posterior wash, general use, or family cleaning) and a vulva wash (called feminine cleaning, feminine wash or bidet) both of which could have temperature, pressure and soap options and a blow drier with temperature options. Unless you can read Kanji, the best way to work out which button does what is to press it, but a word of warning; don’t do this unless you are sitting on the loo. The jets of water could shoot across the room or, if you are staring into the bowl, could get you in the face. Also be aware that just about anything can be automated. Approaching the loo could cause the lid and/or seat to rise and soothing music or the sound of running water to play. Lifting off the seat could result in automatic flushing, air deoderising and lid closure. They do everything but talk to you, however to see a talking Japanese toilet with the voice of John Hamm, see Bob’s Burgers Episode 3.15 ‘O.T. the Outside Toilet’. 


Squat Toilet (Image courtesy of Matt Perrault @ Flickr)

Other parts of Asia offer a very basic toilet option, the squat toilet. This may have a cistern attached so it can be flushed, or may need to be manually flushed with a hose or bucket of water. Sometimes toilet paper is kept outside the stalls, a fact often not discovered until it is too late. Travellers from countries where the squat toilet is the norm must be baffled by their first sight of a sitting toilet, as on more than one occasion I’ve discovered footprints on the toilet seat from the previous user squatting precariously despite instructional signs such as this:

Toilet Instructions for use

Just another reason to always carry tissues, wet wipes and hand sanitiser with you when visiting the ladies.


Indonesian toilet sign

I found myself again abandoned by the stick man and woman at toilets in Jakarta with doors that read ‘Pria’ and ‘Wanita’. Which one sounds like the ladies? I have a female Thai friend named Priya, and a female Indian friend called Supriya, but Wanita has a feminine ring to it. I chose the Wanita door and unlike in Vienna I had chosen correctly. Unfortunately this Indonesian success was overshadowed by the case of Bali Belly I contracted – let’s just say that Indonesia gave me the shits. I followed a friend’s advice and now take Travelan for digestive support when travelling. I still pack Imodium, but thankfully have not needed it. Despite all the interesting things I’ve seen in loos around the world, I’d rather spend less time in the little room, and more time seeing the big wide world.