Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cultural Differences - the Bathroom

Whenever you travel to another country you will find differences in the culture.  There will be countless little things that will be different from the way things are at home. You can embrace or at least accept those differences and thus enjoy your foreign visit, or you can whine that things are not the way they are in the United States.  The whiners are usually the ones who get labeled as "ugly Americans".  If they want everything to be the same, they should probably just stay at home.

I was thinking about some of the differences in Spain, and I realized that there are a number of things that are different about Spanish bathrooms.  I write this tongue in cheek, and sincerely hope that I do not come across as one of the "whiners"!  (Likewise, I hope that this post does not come across as too scatological!)

The most obvious difference is that curious, toilet-like contraption known as a bidet.  Three of the four hotels where I stayed in Spain had one in the bathroom.  I will admit that the very first time I traveled to Spain, way back in the 70s, I was mystified by its presence.  I will simply say that if that part of my body is that dirty, I will just take a shower.

When I travel to another country, I usually take a washcloth with me.  In Europe, and most of the time in Mexico, you will not find a washcloth in the bathroom.  I know that in other countries, a washcloth is viewed as very unsanitary.  But I really don't feel clean just using my hand when I shower, and how are luffa sponges or those poofy things any less unsanitary?  On this latest trip to Spain I forgot to pack a washcloth.  One of the hotels had a small, clean towel hanging next to the bidet.  I used that instead.  At the other hotels I used one of the hand towels.  I hope that the wet towel hanging in the shower didn't gross out the chambermaids.  (They took the wet towels and replaced them daily.)

Another thing which I forgot to take with me is a bar of soap.  Even when I travel in the United States I take one because I hate those tiny bars they give you in hotels.  When I realized that had forgotten to bring soap, I went over to the "Corte Inglés" department store.  Generally "Corte Inglés" will have anything that you might need, but I could not find anything similar to a bar of Dial soap.  The bars of soap were all perfumed beauty soaps.  Europeans prefer shower gels, and several of my hotels had dispensers of gel in the shower stall.  However, those gels never seem to produce a good lather.

Oh well, as I said, you must simply accept and adapt to the differences.  One thing, however, about which I will vociferously complain are the lights in Spanish restrooms.  The Spanish, like other Europeans, are much more energy efficient than we are, and that is laudable.  But when you go into a restroom the lights are often timed to go off automatically.   If it takes you a while in the WC, you are left in the dark.  I remember on one trip I was sitting there when I was suddenly plunged into total darkness.  In that restroom the lights were operated by a motion sensor.  I was waving my arms to turn on the lights again.  On my latest trip in one of the restrooms the lights stayed on for an especially short interval.  I had to keep getting up and turning on the switch again!  ¡Ay, ay, ay!


  1. Ah yes, the automatic light shut-off in the foreign bathroom. This seems to happen to me all the time in Mexico, but only in the public bathrooms in the hotel. Not only is it a bit creepy (not a one of those bathrooms has a window), but if you happen to be there, and then the light goes off, and then someone comes in, they are invariably startled when they become aware of your presence. And no doubt they think you're some kind of creep for hanging out in a pitch dark bathroom.

    I wish they'd put those sensors somewhere that they could sense you, even in a vulnerable moment.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where having to use fancy European soap doesn't strike me as much of a privation.

    1. I've never had a "lights out" experience in a restroom in Mexico. Come to think of it, the only place where it has happened to me is in Spain. I guess I just lucked out in the other European countries I've visited.
      Fancy soaps are fine for washing hands and face at the sink, but in the shower I want something like Dial (or "Escudo" in Mexico). The last time I was in England I needed to buy a bar of soap. The only thing I could find (other than fancy soaps or shower gels) was a bar of coal-tar soap. It had a rather medicinal odor, but it served the purpose.

    2. Coal tar soap, LOL... That's for psoriasis, you know.

      By the way, long ago, and far away, I worked as a tax accountant for Peat Marwick in San Francisco. Often while working late in my cubicle, the light would go off, and I'd have to stand up and wave my arms to get it to go back on again.

      You'd think they'd make it easier to work late; but they don't.