Culture Shock in Pictures: Bathrooms

Back by popular demand, I’ll continue off and on to post photos reflecting culture shock. Today’s topic is bathrooms. Oh yes, let’s look at photos of bathrooms. (caution, this post contains words and images some might find offensive.)

In America the majority of toilets are sit-‘n-shits.

floral bathroom

There are a few port-a-potties (clean, contained, sheltered from the elements and peeping toms, and stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer).

porta potty

There are also outhouses, essentially port-a-potties built from wood and without the hand sanitizer. And there are open fields, bushes, lakes, and patches of grass where, if you live in rural areas and are a five-year old boy or younger, are perfectly good places near which you might drop your pants and water the grass. I know because I’m related to boys who have done this and I’ve seen them do it.


In America, toilets flush for you, sometimes while you are still sitting on them. Water, soap, paper towels or dryers, all are turned on for you. Sometimes there are plastic sheets to put over the seat, sometimes there are little boxes on the doors so you can open the door without touching it.

Couches. In the bathroom. And decorations. In the bathroom. This is, to a Djiboutian, absurd. As is the fact that we have a magazine rack in the bathroom at our house. Imagine! Djiboutian bathrooms are often dark, damp, and the home of jinn, or mischievous devils. They are not places to linger or beautify.

reading on toilet

In Djibouti we also have many sit-‘n-shits though they are a bit different. In homes there is no guarantee of toilet paper (what do you think your hand is for?) or hand sanitizer (just wipe with the left, eat and greet with the right). In restaurants there is no guarantee of toilet seats or running water (or paper or soap). In the airport there is no guarantee of a door (or paper, soap, seats, or running water). In the hospital there is no guarantee of privacy (I have carried my urine in a clear plastic cup, sloshing, past other patients, after using the toilet with no soap, paper, or running water).

bathroom bankoule1

In Djibouti we also have squatty potties. These are similar to port-a-potties minus the throne, toilet paper, water, sanitizer, and sometimes minus the walls and roof.

squatty potty

And we have the side of the road. Before races or simply whenever the need arises.

bathroom team1

I would guess, conservatively, that I see a man urinating in places like this at least twice a week

bathroom road2

Culture shock comes in when that American toilet flushes on me while I’m still on it and when the hot water flows down the drain in the shower. When our kids were younger and if we had time during layovers, we had to visit every single bathroom we passed, to see if they all had magic toilets and sinks and paper towel dispensers. We’ve also had to work with our family on when to flush and when not to flush and what to do with toilet paper. Some toilets can’t handle paper. In Djibouti we follow the general phrase:

If its yellow, let it mellow. If its brown, flush it down.

That doesn’t fly when visiting guests in America.

I’ll leave you with this image, from Denmark so not American, but clearly something that, if encountered after being in Djibouti, would absolutely induce culture shock.


How do you experience culture shock in bathrooms?

Culture Shock in Pictures: Grocery Shopping

 Culture Shock in Pictures: Clothing

Culture Shock in Pictures: Scenery

Culture Shock in Pictures: Time

*porta potty image via Wikipedia

*floral bathroom image via Flickr

*outhouse image via Wikipedia

*lip urinal image via Wikipedia

*reading on toilet image via Flickr

Culture Shock in Pictures: Time

For the last topic in the week of culture shock through images, I thought I’d try to represent the different values placed on time.

Start Times


In Minnesota if something starts at 12:35, it will start at 12:35. In Djibouti if something starts at 12:35, it will start when people arrive and when someone decides now might be a good time to maybe start thinking about potentially getting things moving eventually. People will get there when they get there.

djibouti time


In Minnesota people are so busy that we schedule ‘meetings’ to hang out with friends, weeks in advance. It took me a while to get used to writing down my friends’ names on the calendar rather than simply dropping by their houses, though I see the many good reasons for it. Also, in Minnesota we feel like we are supposed to be busy all the time.


Busy is almost seen as a virtue and our minds and bodies struggle to keep up. When we go back home, we struggle to slow down.

slow down1


In Minnesota you can shop ’til you drop or eat out at any time or pump gas around the clock. Twenty-four hours a day.

24 hours

In Djibouti business shuts down in the middle of the day so people can go home and eat, rest, chew khat. In the summer, sometimes, you can only fill up the car with gas in the ‘cooler’ morning or evening hours when the pumps work.


That said, Minnesota does allow for some wonderfully quiet, peaceful hours fishing, walking, and enjoying people at parks and lakes and barbecues in the summertime.


And people work hard in Djibouti during the hours they do work and when they do have jobs (60% unemployment, I believe).


How do you experience culture shock in relation to time?

Culture Shock in Pictures: Grocery Shopping

 Culture Shock in Pictures: Clothing

Culture Shock in Pictures: Scenery

*image via Wikipedia

*image via Flickr

*image via Flickr



Culture Shock in Pictures: Scenery

And again, in our week of culture shock through pictures…scenery

What do I see when I look out the window in Minnesota or in Djibouti?

The city



The running trail

minnesota2 djibouti6

The water



The swing


djibouti4Do I even need to say it? I love it all and feel at home in it all. And sometimes I hate it all and feel like an alien everywhere. Somehow, for better and for worse, this is my life and these are my places and the images are the ones I will always cherish as part of me, foundational and formative and true and mine.

How do you experience culture shock in terms of your scenery?

 Culture Shock in Pictures: Clothing

Culture Shock in Pictures: Grocery Shopping

Culture Shock in Pictures: Clothing

Moving on in our week of culture shock photos, here are some differences in clothing.

Here are two members of Girls Run 2 (in the blue scarf and in the blue jeans) and their relatives, doing what they do before school most days.


And then there was Naked Cowgirl in Times Square (not my sister, the two women behind her). Don’t see a lot of those in Djibouti. I know her name was Naked Cowgirl because that’s what the sign she hung around her guitar said.

naked cowgirl1

What I wear differs depending on my location, too.

In Minnesota on a warm day it was a tank top, a baseball cap I stole from my brother, and super short shorts (not shown and not as short as Naked Cowgirl’s).


In Djibouti, going to a conservative part of town, it was a long dress and a scarf. Though in all honesty, I don’t often cover my hair in Djibouti.


The culture shock part seems to come in the first time I wear those short shorts out and people see my legs when I’m not even at the beach. Or when the scarf keeps falling off. It also comes in when my Minnesota-bred mind sees the well-dressed women running errands in Djibouti and thinks they look dolled up enough to go to a dinner party. And then again when my Djibouti-taught mind sees women in yoga pants or jogging shorts when they aren’t exercising and I wonder why people are wandering around downtown Minneapolis in their pajamas.

How do you experience culture shock through the clothing you see and/or wear?


Culture Shock in Pictures: Grocery Shopping

This week I plan on posting photos that will demonstrate, through images, why people experience culture shock. Partly this is because I think it is funny and partly it is because I’m experiencing what I like to call culture clog. Similar to writer’s block but caused by crossing international borders.

Today’s photos are of grocery stores.

grocery store*image via Wikipedia

The following picture is the entire cereal section at the second largest grocery store in the country. And these photos are exactly why so many expatriates are reduced to tears by the cereal aisle.

grocery store1

And here is the produce section of a Safeway.

safeway produce section

And the produce stall I stop at whenever we need something. What I like about this photo is that it shows people, which to me, demonstrates the relational aspect of most transactions in Djibouti.


And of course, the meat markets.

grocery store meat*image via Wikimedia


Okay, I’m having a little fun with you. I know there are more meat options in the US than canned turkey sticks. And I don’t always buy my meat at places like this, though sometimes I do.

Also, I’m not trying to slam either culture. I love that I can anonymously run in and out of a Cub Foods in Minnesota and that I can be almost guaranteed to find exactly what I want exactly where it was the last time on the shelf. I love shopping in the market and talking with the vendors in Djibouti, I love the freshness of our food and the creativity of preparing so much from scratch.

But I don’t love the overwhelming amount of choices in the American supermarkets and I don’t love the limited options at some points in Djiboutian markets. Both can feel quite, well, shocking, at times.

How do you experience culture shock regarding grocery shopping?



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