The toilet as a cultural symbol…oh yes!


When you travel a lot, of course you come across different types of cultural discrepancies, such as food, housing, religion, taboo subjects and why not, the loo, the can or the toilet.

Now, I know it is a strange topic, but I got the idea, while I was sitting on the can today, in my new Brussels studio (which has a shared toilet with someone else) and discovered, that, well as a typical Benelux feature, it didn’t have a sink in the WC compartment.

I have a personal saying, that a man’s home can be judged by looking at two things: firstly, the doorstep and secondly the WC. You might find this somewhat arbitrary, but the same would go for people as well, or countries in general (when I mean in general, I am referring to a good percentage of people who do so).

In Europe the WC cultures vary. Let’s take for example some parts of rural Eastern Europe, where the sewage system is not present. Typically you might find the good-old wooden toilet, somewhere in the back of the yard, in the middle of nature as we speak. Normally you’d put a small dish next to it, to wash your hands afterwards.

A bit more extreme than this, is the so called “Turkish” toilet found in many Balkan countries and Turkey itself. It is not exactly what I’d call genius; it is simply a hole in the ground. Nothing more. So you either have some good sturdy legs, or a doorknob to hold on to, or you wish you won’t have diarrhea in the meantime. I find it the worst of all toilets, it is uncomfortable, you cannot read your favorite magazine on it, but guess what? It is quite hygienic. You don’t have to sit down after someone, do you?

Now we move to the West a bit, where the airport authorities have thought of many devices to clean the trusty old porcelain can. Either you put a paper thingy on it, to cover the sit or in some German airports a brush actually comes out and automatically cleans it for you.

My least favorite of all is the Dutch method, for several reasons. The WC compartment is separated from the shower (good, the other one won’t suffocate), but although we are talking about the tallest nation in the world, they manage to designate the smallest, most crammed place of the house as the WC. Secondly, there is a small platform in the can, as it is said that in the past Marijke and Core would, you know, look at it, to check whether everything is okei in the bowels. And thirdly, there is almost never a small sink to wash your hands (looks like the southern Belgian neighbors do the same). And then the issue arises, whether after no.2 do I touch the doorknob, where do I wash my hands and what if I happen to stumble upon someone who is eager to shake hands?

And to end this morning analysis, let’s say a few words about my favorite WC system, the Italian one and also a small anecdote shall follow. What can you say about the bell’paese? Good food, shitty bureaucracy, good roads, conflict between the North and the South, BUT, they have awesome WCs. Yes, every house has the loo, has a sink next to the loo and has the bidet. Yes the BIDET, where as a civilized person you can wash your behind and feel comfortable all day long. It is number one on my list and another thing. Italy might have some dirty streets, but the homes inside are spotless.

Last but not least, the anecdote. So it happened that the Italian boyfriend of an acquaintance of mine visited her back home, but guess what? There wasn’t any bidet, so he decided to well…you know…wash his behind in the sink, but unfortunately for him the sink fell with him. Now try explaining that to your future father-in-law, that you are lying butt-naked with a broken sink in his bathroom J

Brussels, 4th Oct 2011

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