The Weirdest Thing About Any Country is the Toilets


Molly Bassette is a student at Kansas State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Dublin, Ireland.


Like every other student on this blog, I’m studying abroad in a completely foreign place. Everything is exciting and new and different and strange and every other adjective you could possibly think of.

From my travels over the past two months, I would like to argue the idea that the human race is as inventive as ever, with no shortage of innovative ideas. For never have I seen such engineering feats of diversity and design ingenuity than in the absolutely infinite ways I have encountered of flushing a toilet.

I’m not kidding. I’ve had to turn a lever, pull a chain from a ceiling, push buttons of MANY shapes and sizes, step on a tab in the floor, lift a handle, and so much more. A lot of touch sensors have been involved. That’s a lot of artificial intelligence, people.

I guess I should start by saying that I don’t really understand why there is so much diversity, and that’s why I started paying attention to it. I mean, of all the things in the world that are universal, or different because of logistical necessity, why reinvent the toilet wheel so many times? As an American, I’m pretty used to standard US toilet flushing methods. And of course, I’m not preaching superiority by any means. Its just that some of the toilet flushing methods I’ve encountered are so technologically advanced… it seems like a lot more work than the simple pull-the-lever-lift-the-plug method in America. Is this a subtle European suggestion of inferiority?

Maybe these different methods really are logistically more sound for each country in terms of costs and design, etc. But some of the methods don’t seem to solve any conventional problems (ex. sanitation, cost efficiency, convenience, etc.). Let me suggest a case study.

I was traveling in Grindelwald, Switzerland, when I stopped at a small restaurant to use the public restroom located on the outside of the building. Upon completing the business at hand, I looked for a way to flush the toilet (mind you, I’ve become an amateur toilet detective at this point)… and a way to turn on the faucet. But there was none of the aforementioned flushing methods, and nothing new I could discover. The faucet was literally only a pipe protruding from the wall. Upon searching for a solid 2 minutes, I noticed a small black symbol printed in the corner of one of the pearl white tiles lining the wall between the sink and toilet. It looked sort of like the “wifi” symbol. I placed my hand just in front of it, not touching the wall. The faucet instantly turned on.


I washed my hands, then because it was the only possible thing to make any sense at that point in time, starting touching everything in the bathroom looking for the magical button that would flush the toilet. I found nothing.

Defeated, I washed my hands and turned to the wooden door and placed my hand on the lock toggle, turning it to unlock the door. Behind me, the toilet flushed.

Okay, what in the world? First of all, how? And second of all, why?? I guess it could be more sanitary because users (in theory) have just washed their hands. But dang, that is some high tech technology!

Ok… so a moral of the story. It may sound strange, but this whole toilet obsession has taught me to pay attention to the little things when I travel to new places. Instead of hurrying to see the big landmarks and the sights everyone talks about, I’ve learned to observe every little thing about the places in front of me. The sounds, the smells, the sights. The idea is that you don’t have to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower to “travel.” Visit a market and sample some of the authentic foods. Walk around a city and pay attention to the architecture.  Because an atmosphere is really just the culmination of a bunch of little things that come together to make the whole experience. And sometimes that is the best way to avoid the “tourist traps” in every city (because there is nothing touristy about the way you flush a toilet). So basically, the idea is that the little things count, so pay attention to them.

But really, I just wanted to write a blog post about a toilet.

The world awaits…discover it.

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