The Unfathomable Toilet Etiquette of The West

If you are faint of heart or squeamish or having your dinner, you may want to skip this post.

The unfathomable toilet etiquette of the West has had many points of argument with those of the East, especially since cable and satellite television brought those differences through Western dramas and movies into our drawing rooms. We have accepted and assimilated the Western-style toilets in our daily lives – whether they are as healthy as our Eastern toilets is a question we no longer bicker about – but that is about it.

Drinking water from the bathroom faucets was one of the first things to scandalize the populace back home, until we were told that Westerners received ‘filtered’ water in all their taps – then we were just sad.

Then, of course, there is the eternal paper versus water debate. We know that paper is just never going to get in those hard-to-reach places unlike water that trickles its way into all dark crevasses with ease. We are pretty smug about that one and magnanimously allow the Westerners their paper eccentricity and just shake our heads at their sometimes utterly silly ideas. But some things just move beyond head-shaking and better science.

East versus West
East versus West

‘Two and a half men’ has been a favourite sitcom of both hubby and me for quite sometime now, although we stick to the reruns where Jake was cute, Charlie is still alive and more than kicking, and Alan is being his miserly, defeated self. Every few episodes though we are presented with the image of one family member or other hugging the toilet bowl after a bout of heavy drinking. For some reason, this bothers me more than the double innuendo’s and the sexist theme of the show. They even fall asleep with their heads on the toilet or on the floor beside it.

Jake Harper from 'Two and a Half Men' hugging the bowl
Jake Harper from ‘Two and a Half Men’ hugging the bowl

And its not just this show. This is an oft-repeated theme for anyone who is suffering a tummy upset courtesy of too much drinking, emotional trauma or just bad food in American/Western movies and shows, and it manages to gross me out every single time. I mean, do they clean their bathrooms and toilet bowls with Hydrochloric Acid every single day for it to be clean enough to sleep there?

I still remember this National Geographic documentary – remember the ones where they would film stuff in hyper-magnification and extreme slow-motion – where they showed how when you flush your toilets, tiny droplets mushroom out of the toilet bowl and settle on everything around like on the floor, the sink, the toothbrush on the sink and, of course, the toilet bowl itself. Granted, the human body is smart enough to fight off the minute amount of bacteria that it comes in contact with in this manner, but still it should make one think twice about bedding down in the loo.

Hugging it out !
Hugging it out !

Also, not everyone is a strict adherent of the ‘ Do not sprinkle, when you tinkle’ idiom. I am sure men talk on the phone, lean over to pick up something from the sink, dance to the violent songs playing in their headphones, rush out to answer the door bell halfway-through/while attending to the business of ‘tinkling’, which invariably must lead to ‘sprinkling’. Is it therefore smart to put your cheek on a rim which may be adorned by invisible droplets of liquid gold?

And what of the days when you have eaten that spicy Indian curry? Or, what about the times you catch a water-bug from contaminated pani-puri? Or, you drink milk past its expiry date? Your stomach churns and gurgles and rebels against such harsh punishment. The result is usually a case of what is known as the ‘runs’. They are also, more often than not, explosive. And explosions have been known to cause ‘splatters’ that have a far and wide reach. ‘Splatters’ stick on surfaces, dry and stay there waiting for a scrub off with the strongest acid on a longest-handled toilet brush or with conveniently moist cheeks or arms.

Still, if you are doing your hugging at your home, at least you know its all your own stuff. But what about the scenes on American television where people carry out their drink/trauma/drug-induced toilet hugging in ‘public’ toilets. (Pause for shudder).  Do they not think of all the people who have walked into those un-hallow portals before them, dropped their pants, placed their naked flesh on that toilet seat and let go of their unnecessary baggage? Do they wonder how many times a week a cleaner walks through there with a mop and how much do they really try to get it clean? Do they wonder how many unwanted fragments of someone else’s most private lives they are carrying home smeared on their knees, their arms, their foreheads and their cheeks?

There must be a reason why the westerners do not squirm when they hug their toilet seats, given their penchant for cleanliness, and, yet, try as I might and as much as I love my American sitcoms and movies, I will never reconcile myself to this aspect of their culture. Will they ever grow out of it or is it a practice that is being adopted world-over even as we speak?



15 thoughts on “The Unfathomable Toilet Etiquette of The West

  1. Hee, hee…..eerie and funny that I share these thoughts along with a horror of public loos.

    Btw, ‘penchant for cleanliness’, as you mention, is subject to convenient interpretation. At work, I’ve seen people walk into the loo with coffee cups, papers, files et al to only wash their hands post-session. Or put their feet (with shoes) on their desk and proceed to eat lunch on the same spot. Or even walk over drawings/sheets spread out on the floor (shoe prints clearly showing) and then, proceed to pick them up and carry on. Since this snafu list is long, it must mean germs are practicing the dharma of being discerning, compassionate and kind. Or so we hope. 😀


    1. Lol! would you believe me if I tell you, I too thought whether I was being too generous with that phrase, but then decided to go with it – and I agree with each and every point you make. We all have such different concepts of cleanliness – personal and environmental both. Difficult to pick up a clear winner 🙂


  2. Hi,
    I read your article this morning and have been thinking about it and about replying to you all day.

    You are asking for a reason, why westerners are hugging toilets despite the gross-factor, but you’ve actually replied yourself: westerners are (mostly) drunk when they do that. There’s of course sober puking into the toilet when people are ill and their stomachs play up, but an sickly person will not stay at the toilet over-night, they will clean themselves and the toilet up and go back to bed. Cause staying and hugging the toilet is gross!

    Sadly, westerners abuse alcohol (and other drugs) very heavily.. and when very drunk people lose their common sense quite a bit and act in a way, they wouldn’t when sober. And what’s even more sad, in a way, western (especially american) tv/movies sort of glorify drinking and drunkenness. Take for example the romantic sitcom How I met Your Mother – half of the story happens in a bar, while the main characters are drinking. Or even worse, there’s this movie-franchise called Hangover.. I once tried to watch one of the films, but stopped after 10 minutes, cause it was disgusting.
    Maybe I’m wrong and these series/films actually try to set a warning example, but I get the feeling that is not what most people take away from there..

    I also have to say, I am an westerner, not from America though, I’m European. And I don’t drink alcohol much, only rarely and very little. And the pressure I get from friends/co-workers about drinking is awful. People who don’t consider drinking an acceptable pastime, are being bullied into drinking all the time. At the same time, at least in my country on government-level I guess drinking is seen as a problem and we have anti-drinking campaigns going on all the time..

    As for paper use.. I have to agree somewhat.. the only eastern toilet I have used (so I cannot comment further on eastern style toilets), was in Japan, where they had a western style toilet equipped with washing up facilities, which I found so extraordinary and great, that I wondered, coming home, how come we don’t have these? It’s a funny thing to say, but I dream about the west adopting that-kind of toilet.. a mix of east and west, really.
    Also, I have to add, I once read somewhere that the paper was supposed to be an temporary solution created during WWII (if I’m not wrongly dating this).. so the west used to be civilized before that and wash their private parts up after the act.. but talk about temporary.. it’s been around for over 70 years..

    As to whether the east will take over western (bad) habits via tv-series and films.. then I hope not. I hope the east will be able to use their common sense and only pick out good things to get inspired or influenced by and leave the bad ones like hugging toilets.

    Thank you again for the great read, you’ve got a wonderful sense of humour, sorry for my reply being this long and also the serious route I took despite your humours article.

    Wish you all the best! And keep on writing.
    M from Estonia.


    1. Wow! I am overwhelmed. First, by the idea that you took the time to read my article and then think about it and then to take the time to write this wonderful reply. This post had been in my mind for quite a while and one day I thought I had to just let it out. I appreciate the fact that you (as in Westerners) coming to my blog have taken it in good humour and spirit. I am very pleased that you like it 🙂


  3. I’m an American and I find this post to be absolutely fabulous and more than slightly hysterical. 🙂 I also agree with you. 🙂


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