Restroom Culture


international_largeThrough my many international travels, I have discovered that one can learn a lot about the local culture from its public restrooms.

The Name

In Taiwan, the women’s restrooms are often called “make-up room” (interpreted), emphasizing the importance of feminine beauty.  In Finland and Britain, restrooms are called “water closets”, or “W.C.”  Hopefully they were not for drinking.   In Canada, restrooms are called “washroom”, which always raises concerns over the water’s dual use.     In the U.S., it is “men’s room” or “women’s room”, “bathroom” or “restroom”.  The “bathroom” reference is likely from the fact that in homes toilets are often co-located with the bathtubs.  The “restroom” terminology is probably from the seated toilets.

The Door

In Japan, China and Finland, the restroom doors are often fully enclosed (not even a gap); while in the U.S. and Taiwan the doors are raised to show the patron’s feet (as well as pieces of undergarments), probably to indicate someone is in the stall.  I believe the air-tight restroom doors reflect social conservatism, while the raised doors reflect practicality.  Personally, I find the fully-enclosed door suffocating.

The Toilet

In China, public toilets are historically squatters, unless you are in a 4- and 5-star hotel. Squatters are the simplest form of toilets.  They need to be cleaned often, but never break. Simplicity is the ultimate form of elegance.  Taiwan started with squatters in the 1960’s, but have quickly evolved to seated toilets during the industrialization in the 70’s and 80’s. Recently, Taiwan is having a retro of sorts, as many tourist spots reverted back to squatters to accommodate mainland Chinese visitors.  In the U.S, the toilet bowls are XXL sized to match equivalently large patrons to ensure nothing is missed during the transaction.  Finally, toilets in Japan have instructions by their sides on how to activate an automated rinse to give patrons that fresh, just-showered feeling.  Cleanliness and respecting authority are key elements of Japanese culture.

Next time you visit another country, even if just making a connecting flight, visit the restrooms and fully experience the local culture.  You’ll need it.


(The above article is a whimsical attempt at humor and does not necessarily reflect the position of the author’s current and past employers.  Heck, it doesn’t not even necessarily reflect the author’s own belief.  Read at your own risk.)