It’s a lesson every traveler must someday learn: toilets (and bathrooms in general) can vary greatly from one area to another. For us, it’s part of experiencing a new place (more on our experiences in a moment).
Apparently some of the journalists who traveled to Sochi, Russia for the Olympic games hadn’t encountered this particular (and somewhat common) rule:
People have asked me what surprised me the most here in Sochi. It’s this. Without question … it’s … THIS. pic.twitter.com/1jj05FNdCP
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) February 4, 2014
While the practice of disposing of toilet paper in a bin rather than the toilet itself isn’t standard here in America, Zeke and I have personally experienced the same arrangement in both Greece and Tanzania. Generally it has to do with very old sewer systems that weren’t built with toilet paper in mind, although that explanation may not hold true in the brand new Olympic venues.
I’ll readily admit that the first time I encountered this instruction I scrunched up my nose a bit (I know — Americans!), but I never found it to be a big deal. “When in Rome”, right?
On my second trip to Europe and my first visit to Greece, Zeke and I spent a week on Andros and another week island hopping. By the time we boarded the ferry from Gavrio to start our trip through the islands I was used to the put-the-paper-in-the-bin routine, but more bathroom surprises awaited me.
We were spending an afternoon on Paros in between ferry trips, perusing the port-area shops and grabbing a big fruit salad at an outdoor restaurant, when I needed to use the restroom. We found the public WC and I walked in, took a look around, and walked back out to Zeke.
I was pretty sure the bathroom was under construction. There were stalls, sinks and mirrors, but nothing in the stalls except for these flat pieces of porcelain surrounding a hole where you’d expect the toilet to be. I had heard of hole-in-the-floor toilets, but this looked decidedly unfinished; and I wasn’t about to use it and have a construction worker waltz in with the actual toilet, ready to install.
Zeke laughed at me, but I checked to be sure the bathroom was empty and dragged him in to take a look. He confirmed it was not a construction project abandoned for an afternoon meal. I used my first hole-in-the-floor toilet.
Before you laugh at me too hard, think back to your first international (or just different) bathroom experience. How did you handle it? Better yet, turn those thoughts into a comment and share your story with us!