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