Why is toileting so rarely discussed in travel guides, on intrepid TV shows or in books? It's strange, because what goes in must come out, and those media can't talk enough about food and drink.
Even Enid Blyton, queen of the kidnapping tale, never tells us how her characters relieve themselves when they're locked in attics (it happens at least once every book - you'd think she'd have worked it out). And whenever I hear stories about people who've braved 20-hour bus rides in third world countries, the first thing I think is, "how did you go to the loo?"
Am I unusual in needing to know where the nearest toilet is at all times? I've mentioned before that I have a small bladder and when I have to go, I have to go! Which is why I get panicky on long journeys on public transport without scheduled toilet breaks. Call me anal (it would be appropriate) but I like my privacy. Some toilet paper and a relatively clean facility wouldn't go astray either.
That's often too much to ask. If there's one thing I've learnt about travelling, it's to carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser at all times. The number of public toilets that don't provide either is astonishing. France and Italy are the worst European offenders. Their public latrines are so bad that no matter how dirty, they're luxurious if they have a seat and a bit of paper.
That's if there are any common bathrooms at all. There's a reason Paris smells of urine: there are no public toilets, so everyone goes in public. I quickly learned not to lean against walls or sit near bushes in that city. Especially after I saw a man peeing in the shrubs next to me on the grass near the Louvre. That was just after I'd seen a rat the size of a small cat scamper across my path.
In the French and Italian countryside, many toilets are the squatting kind. They're the norm in a number of societies of course, but when you're not used to them they're difficult to conquer. They'd be a great thigh workout if you used them regularly - I struggled. And can someone please tell me how you're meant to go without splashing yourself? The bits where you place your feet are so far apart it's inevitable. Gross!
There are other European toilet habits that I find strange too. How do you use a bidet, for instance? Try Youtubing that one!
At least bidets are clean. How desperate do you have to be to use a disgusting toilet when there's no alternative? I once waded through sewage water after a flood (there were bits of toilet paper floating in it) in Thailand because I was so desperate to go. A friend of mine was forced to squat over a public pit in Vietnam, and another held on for seven hours on a ferry ride in the Middle East because the sole lavatory on board (males only) was so filthy. Yet another friend gave herself a bladder infection in rural China because she couldn't face the dunnies there.
All cultures use different styles of toilet and cleanliness is subjective, but when you're used to one kind and you encounter another, it can be confronting.
Even American toilets are strange. The water in them is so high I felt as though I was going to get wet every time I sat down. And what's with the gaps between the doors in public restrooms? Forgive me for being a prude but I like a little privacy when I pee!
One thing I've learnt from all these weird loos is to go when there's one available whether you need to or not. You don't know when there'll be another.
What are your horror toilet stories?