Something that we don’t often think about when going abroad (or even to a new part of the US) is plumbing. Some countries have intricate sewer systems, some have pit latrines. Some countries don’t use toilet paper, some countries can flush hygiene products amongst other things.
For those of you traveling to Brazil, let me tell you about the most common situations that may need your attention for successful bathroom etiquette.
Toilet Paper Disposal
Do NOT flush your toilet paper. Most piping systems in most buildings are NOT equipped to handle flushing toilet paper. Be my guest if you want to clog up your host’s plumbing system, but I highly recommend you flush nothing but human waste down the toilet.
What do I do, then?
Great question! You throw the used toilet paper or other product in the garbage beside you, just like you would a facial tissue or cotton swab.
Isn’t that disgusting?
Not really, not after you get used to it. In Brazil, people tend to take out their bathroom garbage daily or at least far more often than only once a week so the smell doesn’t get too bad. Personal (& some public) garbage cans commonly have lids on them as well, so you don’t have to look at it.
*Exception* Public bathrooms at busy places (concerts, bars, bus stations, on the long bus rides, bus stops, etc.) usually have used toilet paper overflowing the can. Don’t freak out. Just use the bathroom.
Is it clean?
Usually! Sometimes the floor can be sludgy and disgusting (think dive bar), so NEVER use any bathroom (anywhere) without shoes. You can sit on the toilet seat depending on your personal judgement…or use it as a valuable opportunity to strengthen your thighs.
Tell me more about toilet paper.
Okay, fascinating. Well, you should know that in a lot of public bathrooms, it is common to not have toilet paper or paper towels available. (Sometimes you have to grab the toilet paper from the main area or an employee handing it out before you enter the stall.)
What about soap and hand washing?
Most public bathrooms have functioning sinks, however not all of them will have soap at the moment you are going to need it.
What about paper towel vs hand dryers?
Only in very rare circumstances do I find a hand dryer available and functioning. Places like airports or nicer restaurants are usually these rare places. Sometimes, there aren’t even paper towels, so a quick shake and rub on the pants is common.
Do I have to pay?
Not often, but sometimes at bus stations and other places you will have to pay to use the bathroom. This is supposed to make sure you have a higher quality experience as well as toilet paper and maybe even soap to wash your hands.
Tips & Tricks
- Carry an extra piece of absorvant napkin (not the waxy plastic ones) in your bag, just in case.
- Carry around some coins for long bus trips, just in case the bathrooms cost money.
- If it doesn’t seem sanitary, squat, don’t sit on the toilet seat.
- Carry a small container of hand sanitizer with you always. This can be great for bathrooms that don’t have soap or for when you want to pet a dog and then eat right after.
- Test the power of the flush by pre-flushing if you are nervous it might end up getting clogged by your business.