Travellers often face the dilemma of trying out new experiences and learning about unfamiliar places and cultures, while still attempting to bring with them a measure of the comforts and lifestyle to which they're accustomed at home. This problem becomes most acute with toilet facilities. Americans especially have difficulty adapting to the eliminatory customs of others. Worst of all those in the American traveller's catalogue of horrors is the "Turkish toilet." You can learn how to use it, but there's no guarantee you'll ever get used to it.
- Skill level:
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Start by knowing your enemy. The Turkish toilet or squat toilet is a glorified hole in the floor. It is usually built on a slant and is often made of tile or concrete. There are corrugated holes, made of tile or porcelain, on either side of the hole. These are where you plant your feet. Think of them as boots attached to skis. There may or may not be a flush handle. Often there is a water spigot as well as a hose and a bucket.
Prepare yourself for the procedure. Empty your pockets, or at least put the contents in a safe place. You don't want your money, keys, or passport falling onto the toilet floor or into the hole. Take off your coat. Women in skirts will want to pull them up as high as possible. If you're wearing trousers you may want to take them off, or at least roll up your pant legs and tuck the back of your trousers well out of the line of fire. In some places, visitors are required to take off their shoes and put on special toilet sandals or slippers, but you'll probably not want to use a Turkish toilet at all if you're wearing sandals. If you have diarrhoea, you'll find things most unpleasant.
Take aim. If you've ever played ring toss or shot pool you pretty well know what to do. In most countries, the squat toilets are designed so you squat with your back to the wall and face forward. In Japanese squat toilets, you face the wall, with your back pointed to others in the room. Advocates of squat toilets say they are healthier, in that they require the body to assume a more natural position for elimination than Western-style toilets do. But these same advocates also say Turkish toilets are cleaner and more hygienic--something that is rather debatable.
Decide how to complete the procedure. Ideally you will be carrying your own soft toilet paper. There may be toilet paper available in the Turkish toilet, but it's probably rougher than you're used to using. The plumbing in Turkish toilets is often ancient and very delicate and a big wad of toilet paper can easily clog things up. You might be expected to use the toilet paper and then deposit it in a waste pail afterwards. Don't worry--you won't have any trouble finding it. If there is a spigot and/or a hose, you might be expected to use the water in lieu of toilet paper for cleaning up. A great many people all over the world use their left hand--and nothing else--for toilet functions, which is why using the left hand while eating or handing things to others is regarded as a serious cultural faux pas. So if you reach for the spigot or the hose--remember where it's been. The paper available might instead be there for you to dry your hands with, after cleaning up with water or your fingers. If there is toilet paper and a hose, spigot and bucket, you may be expected to use water to force the toilet paper and waste down through the plumbing.
Finish by flushing, if indeed there is a handle to flush. But make sure you're standing well back and out of the toilet when you do so, or you'll be in for a nasty little shower or foot bath. If after all this you wish to run back to your hotel and curl up into a fetal position on the bed, it's perfectly understandable.
Tips and warnings
- Twentieth-century architect Le Corbusier designed some low-cost housing units where the floors of the showers doubled as Turkish toilets. That's not a pleasant thought.