It has many names depending on which country you are in: bathroom, washroom, toilet, W.C., lavatory, loo, gents, ladies, powder room, throne, dunny. Most people can't live without it, even the jolly hobos! It seems even more precious when you are on the move and in a strange country.
For the convenience of this post, we just call it toilet. We have decided to review general toilet culture in different continents and countries because it's such an integral part of our lives and the toilet culture varies dramatically from one country to another.
When public toilets are not available, the Jolly Hobos' general rule of thumb is to find a large hotel, a supermarket, a shopping mall, a restaurant or cafe. Five star hotels always warrant a comfortable visit. Using facilities in cafes and restaurants always involve sneaking in trying to look like a patron with a secret sense of guilt. Supermarkets and shopping malls don't guarantee quality, but beggars are no choosers really! Again, what is available depends on what country you are in.
Let's start where we are now - Croatia. Since our arrival ten days ago, we have been blown away by the emerald Adriatic sea water and the well preserved living museum of the old town Split has to offer. However, when the nature calls, we struggle to find a toilet. There are a couple of paid public toilets in the old town with the ongoing fee of 5Kn (USD$0.75). In the entire massive Marjan Forest Park, there is only one tiny public toilet at the Bene beach and currently is free of charge. At the most popular Bacvice beach, there is no public toilet.
Since there are no large hotels with open doors, no large supermarkets with toilets and no shopping malls nearby, the choices one has left when nature calls are: going to a nearby cafe, going to the bushes or going into the water. That's why when hiking in Marjan park, tissues can be seen scattered everywhere near the trails. Such a shame! We don't understand why the local councils don't build some simple toilets at the popular beauty spots to save the disgrace and the environment.
Toilet culture in Croatia pretty much sums up that in most of Europe. The general mindset in Europe about toilets is pay per use and provision of an adequate number of free public toilets is simply not in their DNA. As a result, every corner of a city can be a public toilet. That's why so often the smell and stain of urine can be ubiquitous in European cities.
I remember a couple of past encounters of ours in Europe: one was in Prague where even McDonald's charged a fee to use their toilet by having a cranky lady guarding it; the other was in Iceland where we paid two Euros per person to use a toilet in a national park.
Mexico unfortunately has adopted the European toilet culture. In San Miguel de Allende, we had to pay to use toilets in farmer's markets, bus stations and parks. But around the town, we quickly identified some free and clean toilets in the public library and a couple of large hotels, making life a lot easier.
Toilet culture in Japan is on the opposite side of that in Europe. The Japanese fully understand the benefits of a clean readily available public toilet to an individual and to a society. In cities, they built a network of public toilet inside convenience stores that exit almost every 100 metres. Those toilets are clean with soap, toilet paper and paper towel or hand dryer. Along motorways you can find either stand alone toilet blocks or a complex with a toilet block, a grocery store and a food court. Also it's worth of noting that most toilets in Japan have builtin bidet and music playing functions! It's truly an exotic and enjoyable experience to use toilets in Japan.
US, Canada, Australia and UK all share similar toilet culture. Free public toilets are considered as part of fabric of a society, for example, they are available in parks, town centers, popular tourist locations and beaches and they are regularly maintained by local councils. In addition, one can easily find alternative options in supermarkets and shopping centers. McDonald's has always been a safe bet if you are on the road.
What's your experience with toilets when travelling? Leave a comment blow.