Bathroom Etiquette: The Need to Know, When You Need to Go

by Carter Brown

The toilet, comfort room, lavatory, water closet -- with many names but a single meaning, bathroom etiquette varies around the world. Though many find it to be an uncomfortable topic, it's something all travelers should be aware of; do they use toilet paper? Should I put it in the bin or flush it down? The right hand or the left? In public?!

Before Going in You Must Know What to Expect
Before Going in You Must Know What to Expect. Photo by Carter Brown

Etiquette can vary greatly depending on the location, financial situation, and gender of the goer. In many Asian countries it is acceptable for men to urinate in public. Drivers often pull over unannounced and relieve their bladder on the vehicle's tire no matter the time of day. There are commonly outdoor urinals too. But sorry ladies, the same rules do not apply across the board for women. However, like most things abroad, these quirks just need to be experienced to be understood!


Japan is in a class of its own in regard to bathroom etiquette. Traditionally the toilet is near to ground-level. Atop the rim there is typically a cover to prevent backsplash when flushing. Slippers independent from house slippers are expected to be used when toileting, and only when toileting. It is expected that the occupant faces the toilet -- opposite the Western-way -- either squatting or kneeling. To be honest though, as long as you close the stall door, who is really going to know which way suits your fancy? More elaborate facilities have a Princess setting, a button that imitates the sound of the toilet flushing to spare individuals any embarrassment. Japanese home stays are a bit of a different story though.


Indians are notorious for squatting. Alongside the road waiting for a bus, during meals, and without exception. . .when toileting. Infamous for having strict right and left hand rules, these bathroom tips are ones travelers heading to the subcontinent should be aware of. Most toilets are a simple hole in the ground surrounded by porcelain. Next to the hole are treads where the user’s feet should be planted. After situated, the occupant should squat and carry on as usual. Bathrooms usually have a faucet with a small bucket. When finished, fill the small bucket with water. Water in this case replaces the toilet paper used in most of the West. The water is to be poured down the backside while gently washing with the left hand. If worried about leaving the bathroom soaking wet, pants can be removed and hung on a hook usually in the stall. If going behind a bush be sure to take water along. Have doubts about this practice? Think how eco friendly Indians are not using toilet paper!


The Chinese prefer the squat-method, forgetting toilet paper as well. If the Western throne is available many still elect to squat, therefore standing on the seat. Leave your modesty behind, because many bathrooms are typically unisex and bathroom stalls or cubicles often do not have doors and walls are usually short. Some bathrooms even have multiple holes in one stall. Family style anyone?

While many find the squatty potty a shocker at first sight, with time it will become second nature. Squatting has been shown to be much healthier and natural for the human body. Venues accustomed to Western travelers also frequently cater to "traditional" practices. Albeit if Western amenities are available, they may cost a pretty penny. Toilet paper is widely available in most urban sprawls in Asia, but not necessarily in bathrooms, so be sure to stock up if feeling resistant to the hand or water method.