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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Surviving Foreign Bathrooms

Numerous times I have been put in the position of explaining some of the hard facts of life in foreign lands.  People ask me to prepare them for Country X, Y, or Z, and inevitably, bathrooms come up.  Not necessarily polite conversation, but hey….

“A hole.  With two footprints on either side,” I reported.





“Oh no–.”


I think that sums it up.

Once, we had to travel to another province in Russia.  It was a whole convoluted situation where we needed to get new visas since ours were expiring.  Naturally, one cannot get new visas while in the country, but that didn’t stop us.  After a very long day running from office to office in this Islamic republic populated by large, swarthy men in small, broken-down cars with their hoods up everywhere you went, we needed to head back to our own region’s hacienda.

“You will stay with us for the night,” our facilitator told us.

We will?

That thought never really crossed our minds.  Our bags, our toiletries, our 1.5 beds for 3 people were all back at the dated hotel for which we were definitely overpaying.  And now they expected us to stay with them?


“We’ll find a driver,” we smiled, knowing all about locating a van for hire in the back alleys of back alley open-air markets.

“Whatever you need, you can buy here…” they put up a fight.

We let them know in no uncertain terms that we were going back to our region.  Our first son had friends there and he would be seeing them in his spare time.  As for us, we shuddered at the idea of being held semi-captive in someone else’s home.  No internet, no way to contact anyone in time of need (and we were having numerous times of need each day).  We wanted to be out and about, rather than watching Russian regional TV on our facilitator’s terms.

And thus we came to require a restroom before our two-and-a-half hour trek back by taxi.

“The only option in this area is the bus station.  It’s not nice,” the facilitator levelled with us.  “I can’t go in with you.”

Which turned out to be fine, because after paying my three rubles to the unsmiling matron at the ticket-counter window outside the facilities, and after being handed my wad of crepe paper toilet paper through the bank-like depressed metal slot (which made me wonder which was more valuable in these hinter regions:  a collection of 3 rubles per person, or wads of toilet paper, that they had to be guarded so diligently?), I learned upon entering said facilities that they were intended for a communal experience of sorts, something that would not be entirely pleasant sharing with one’s facilitator.

I walked into a rather large room, with hooks around the walls, as though to hang one’s bag.  Handy, since inside the stalls there were no hooks.  Yet, should I really leave my bag outside the stall, only to be stolen once I was in mid-stream, shall we say?  Sinks stood at the ready to welcome the weary traveler in the tiled expanse.  Now that I think about it, perhaps the hooks were for towels, so one might freshen up after a day or two on the bus-?

On a raised platform, up two or three steps, stood “the stalls”.  These again were large enough for a group of 10 friends or so, and chest-high.  This could work to one’s advantage, both to keep an eye on one’s purse or towel or child hanging on the hooks outside, or to allow one to engage in pleasantries with the person next door.  There were three stalls in total, which made me wonder why they didn’t make them smaller and more plentious, but this was their gig and not mine.  I took my position in one stall, latched the door shut, and “stood my ground” in the handy-dandy footsteps.  It probably wasn’t so much a matter of not being able to figure out where to stand, but the striated footprints prevented one from slipping down the hole.

How to put this delicately…?   Not everyone has good aim.  It can become rather messy around The Hole.  Whatever you do, whenever possible:  do not look down.  You may quite possibly faint.  Or, just die on the spot.

In some such facilities, there is a chain to pull, or a button to push, after you have finished your business.  Should you decide to pull such chain, have your pants pulled up, and be ready to jump out of harm’s way.  Quickly.  Water will flush over the depressed Hole area.  Sometimes this flushing helps the general condition of The Hole, and sometimes it just distributes Holey matter all over your feet and ankles.

A Holey experience is not to be confused with a Holy experience, but you will be crying out to God in any event.

Unfortunately, during my brief foray into the Russian remote-province bus station facilities, I did not have any facility-mates with whom I could converse over the stall walls.  As I was exiting, another young lady entered, and I half-considered lingering, just to see if Russian ladies’ restrooms could become as chatty as American ladies’ restrooms.  But we had to get going.

And lest you imagine that all bus or train station restrooms worldwide are gross and grungy (and I would agree with that hypothesis), I have discovered similar footprint-friendly facilities in regional airports in Russia, as well as in the elegant and historic GUM shopping mall in Red Square.  There, you can buy a designer blouse for $500 (or 150,000 or so rubles), and then go to the basement and be abased.  Should you reject that option, Moscow offers a plethora of port-a-potties which operate even in freezing wintertime, just for people who feel nature calling, and have a few extra rubles to pay to take a leak.

Europe is much the same.  I recall leading a group of Americans through a tiny Italian town (long story) where we had stopped for lunch.  There was a unisex restroom with stalls up to the ceiling and down to the ground.  Wasn’t the phrase “When in Rome…” written for precisely such a situation?  Yet, one of our men could not go.  He refused to be anywhere near a woman.  I knew him well, and felt he was being silly.

“Look, it’s a room,” I explained.  “A room!  You’re by yourself.  Would you just tinkle and go?”

I have a way with words.

I finally gave up on him, and entered the room, myself.  He ended up making the whole bus late, dillying and dallying till he had peace and quiet and privacy.

Americans can be interesting.  I’ve heard of women who invest in camping funnels.  These are paper funnels (I knew you’d ask, so I might as well tell from my vast archives) which are disposable and help direct your urine straight down… instead of say, down your leg, while standing.

Read my lips:  crouch!   Bend zee knees.  You want to hit a happy medium between low enough to hit the target, and high enough to not be excessively splashed.

I was once in a train station in India with Benedetto.  Actually, I have been many times in train stations in India, but you know what I mean.  The man coming to collect us did not speak English.  So far, par for the course.  He arrived, bearing a letter of introduction stating his name, Mr. Benny, and how he would be leading us several hours by train to a distant province.  (I must write more about this experience one day.)  So it was difficult to inquire about any bathroom facilities, given the language barrier.

After we had waited several hours for the train, taking our refuge in the “Upper Class Gents Waiting Room” which closely resembled a cow barn with plastic chairs, I decided to broach the topic.  Using several international words for toilet, WC, bathroom, restroom, and hand gestures, I made myself understood.  (Take note:  foreign phrase books are not to be scoffed at.)  Mr. Benny pointed in the general direction.

Clad in a Punjabi outfit with veil not doing such a great job of hiding my blond hair, I picked my way through stacked suitcases and bodies, trying not to create a stir.  Several doors presented themselves, and I stepped forward slowly, noting men coming out of this door or that.  Some came out with towels.  Curious, but monkeys came running through buildings, as well, so who was I to judge?  A crowd appeared to be watching me.  Guessing with all of my deductive reasoning powers that the ladies’ room must be facing the men’s, I finally opened Door #3.  Seeing it was empty, I quickly locked the door behind me.

Surveying the room, that was again about four times the average bathroom stall in mainstream America, it was then that reality hit:  a small hole in the middle of the floor greeted me.  This was a shower room.  I vacillated back and forth, whether or not to leave the room and go on my search yet again.  I decided to stay put.  Eyeing the hole, and sensing my full bladder, I did what any desperate woman hailing form the Upper Class Gents Waiting Room would do.

Thus relieved, a riot broke out with radical Hindus chanting something or other outside, before we could board our train.  Hopefully it had nothing to do with me.  After several hours of travel in the rickety train, punctuated by the deliciously pungent veg curry served in tin trays, and a couple bottles of water, I again decided to try the facilities.

Following others’ treks up and down the aisle, I found the tiny room with metal toilet (no seat for those who must know, not that anyone in their right mind would sit in such a place) and tiny metal sink.  The water to wash one’s hands might be suspect, but it was always a good starting place before using the anti-bacterial wipes that had a tendency to dry up to crispy little sheets in such soaring temperatures.

The rhythmic shaking of the train created quite a test and trial, trying to balance, while not touching anything in sight.  I glanced out the clouded, filthy, filmy window at villagers beating their laundry on river rocks near the train tracks.  Flushing the toilet with my own pocket kleenex saved specifically for such a time as this, I was amazed when the bottom of the toilet opened up and WHOOSH! out went everything onto the speeding track below.

Sorry, villagers.

I have more foreign bathroom stories, but they will have to wait.  I realize that you can probably scarcely hold your excitement, so go ahead:  I’ll wait while you make your way to the facilities.



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23 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Winnie says:

    Yeah, I’ll never forget the look on Hubby’s face after he came out of the “facilities” in the basement of the courthouse in region. Despite the need to go I refused.

  2. avatar Gwendolyn says:

    OH, have I been THERE! My first such experience, at a train station outside Paris, I gave up in despair and clenched lot. I was wearing three layers on top, and three layers of pants (at least — we were hiking, in autumn, in the rain) and all layers were NICELY interleaved for maximum warmth and dryness, but not for shedding in a dark room with a hole in the floor.

    Dress definitely work better!

    Been there, done it al, survived. Prefer earth closets to Turkish toilets. Once asked a very close Russian friend for advice on how to manage the latter and she said, airily, “Oh, …” and changed the topic. Dear, dear Natasha!


  3. avatar Judy says:

    Found your blog while surfing, and couldn’t resist this one! I thought I was the only person who took pictures of the “interesting” toilets in Russia! Nice to know i’m not alone!

  4. avatar Kathleen says:

    Verrrrry Interesting. Makes my experiences in various foreign countries look rather tame in comparison. Thanks for getting my day started with a few laughs 🙂

  5. avatar Sybil says:

    At the time we were in an airport in the Far East of Russia, the women’s facilities was a community trough down the middle of the floor for all females in there to use. My daughter who was then 5 years old had to go – she was the size of a small 3 year old and I didn’t know how to help her to straddle it and balance holding her. Fortunately our facilitator was still in the airport. I found her and asked her if she could take her. She kindly did and I was so grateful. Thanks for the memory!

  6. avatar Wrenn says:

    Thanks for giving me a laugh! I will never forget the first place I went with a hole and two footsteps.Thankfully I was wearing a dress..and since have always travelled thus dressed!
    Never thought of taking a picture though…:) PS Small children in public restrooms is never something for the faint of heart.. whether foreign or domestic in nature!

    • avatar admin says:

      And we wonder why so many in foreign countries wear skirts-! I think we have our answer….

      • avatar Sybil says:

        This was in 1998. We are friends with our facilitator to this day. As far as women wearing dresses, I think you are exactly right; the question is how do they deal with the undergarments (to put it politely).

        • avatar admin says:

          Sybil, I can be hired as a consultant should you need lessons, ha, ha…. It’s really not complex (having done this all around the world). For a lady, either wearing a dress/skirt or even pants, the key is to wear a longish top or just “poof” the skirt/slip around your bottom. Nothing needs to be exposed other than maybe the side of your legs. In foreign lands where a remote bus might make a 5 min. stop for everyone to “head to the hills”, ladies simply crouch near the ground and nobody sees anything. As far as the undergarments, you drop zee drawers not all the way down the leg. Just uncover the rump roast (while still covered) and you should be fine…. The skirt poofs around you (not a very straight skirt). Don’t you feel better now?

          • avatar admin says:

            And I might add (you can’t hush me up now… I’m on a roll…!): if wearing pants, FIRST hike the pants up from the hem toward the knee, THEN drop them from the top. Otherwise, there will be a pile of pants draping into a wet floor. Not nice.

  7. avatar Greg says:

    Let me just say that it is good to be a man!

  8. avatar Phyllis says:

    This is hilarious!! I still have nightmares where I’m in the ladies bathroom in the Domestic airport in Moscow and other places (Siberia) in Russia!! I could have used your tutorial back in ’06 while in rural Omsk region. The hole was in the ground – no thought of flushing – with the door just inches away. A very perplexing problem trying to hold things out of the way and not keep popping the door open with my head. Fortunately the “bathroom” was in the back of their cultural museum and out of the line of passers-by. Not sure about the people inside the building though. : ) Indonesia was another experience. It was early in my international traveling days and I was too scared to try the non-American style “bathroom.”

    I guess all this talk will have me with bad dreams again tonight! : )

    • avatar admin says:

      Sorry, Phyllis, now we’re popping up in your dreams/nightmares, as well! Anyway, we should direct some newbies this way, personally I would rather be prepared than just “happen upon” these horrific situations-!

  9. avatar Sybil says:

    Can you become out-poofed or over-poofed or even under-poofed? I don’t believe I understand poofing. Perhaps I am just not a natural poofer. But, it was so nice of you to try to explain.

    • avatar admin says:

      Probably so, but poofing is not your main problem, Sybil. It’s coverage. If it helps, substitute “poofing” with “hiking” as in hiking up the clothes…. As long as they don’t end up around your head, you should be fine.

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