Toilets and bathrooms are one of those differences between east and west that neither party is comfortable with how the other handles things. Over the years in my travels through the Asia, Africa and the middle east, not to mention the many outhouses in the north woods of New England have gotten me rather use to situations that may call for improvisation. Despite my comfort with Asian bathroom protocol, I find that it is regularly a source of confusion and comedy.
I was talking to my mother back in the US the other day when somehow the conversation had moved to discussing the lack of toilet paper in most of Asia. She was quite confused, "What do you mean they don't use toilet paper?!" This seemed inconceivable to her.
I didn't know how to make it any more clear, "Umm...you know they ahh don't use toilet paper."
This didn't help any, "Well what do they do? I mean how do you...you know...I don't get it?"
"They use water."
"What do you mean 'they use water'!?"
"You know, they use water. That's why they don't use their left hand for eating."
"Huh? Oh. That's disgusting! You know you're on another planet over there, right?"
Recently a friend of mine in Kathmandu who is putting up a building had some of his workers go on strike. The problem was the bathroom that was being supplied had a western style toilet. I acknowledged confusion, "I don't get it, what was the problem?"
"They think it's disgusting."
"They don't want to sit on something that everyone else's ass has been sitting on."
Recently some other friends of ours told us that they had a Pakistani man come to stay with them for a bit and while he was there he asked where the bathroom shoes were. My friend had to inform him that they didn't bother using them (for those who don't know, we don't have sandals for our bathrooms in the west). The man apparently kind of hovered around the bathroom door a bit and abstained from using it. Later on while visiting a place out by New Road he picked up a pair of rubber sandals and was then comfortable using the bathroom. One of my friends laughed a little about the incident, "He probably tells his friends back home that we were disgusting, 'they didn't even have bathroom shoes!"