There are lots of really great things about travelling to new countries, but there are also lots of things about travelling to other countries that can be very uncomfortable. The ability to handle the new things that make one uncomfortable is, I think, what makes a person a good traveller or a not-so-good traveller, and is very likely one of the things that will put some people off travelling completely unless they can be assured that they will find the comforts of home in the new place they go to. Among the things that have the potential to make the traveller uncomfortable in new countries, food can be one of the main culprits. Different 'cleanliness' levels of the food (some places are described as having 'dirty food', not because there is any dirt or pesticide or such, but because of the water quality with which food was cleaned or prepared, and other sorts of bacteria and things that the traveller's system will not be used to dealing with), or even just new flavours and food-objects (delicacies, or the regular fare). Closely linked to new-food-discomfort is the equally common new-toilet-discomfort.
The power of a weird toilet to seriously disrupt one's day should not be underestimated. Many people have hang-ups about where they go to the bathroom just in general, when in their own country. I know people who won't go Number 2 in work-toilets, because others may come in and hear them or smell them, and this causes anxiety and stress. When travelling, one really doesn't have much choice about where to go to the bathroom. Sometimes there is a dearth of public washrooms so restaurants and cafes are the only option, and this can be very awkward especially if the cause for having to go to the bathroom is a recent previous stop in a restaurant or cafe. Whatever the reason, travelling and bathrooms create problems together. We found an interesting example of this clash while lately travelling in Austria.
Austrian Toilets: the Odyssey
Toilets in North America are fairly uniform, in all three countries. You've got your seat, your standard sized bowl, with some quantity of water sitting in the bowl, which will vary depending on the water-use-consciousness of the toilet-owner/operator, and the little pipe thingy at the bottom. Austrian toilets are really different, because there is only half a toilet bowl, and no water. Let me describe in detail: there is a seat, and then the bowl starts as usual, but about where the water level would be on a pre-water-consciousness toilet (so half way-ish), the bowl part stops and there is a flat piece of porcelain covering what would otherwise be the bottom of the bowl. At the front of the toilet (between your knees when sitting down) the porcelain platform gives way to a small hole, which has a little bit of water in it. So basically, if you go to the bathroom, you go onto the platform and whatever you did there sits there, inches away from you, out in the open, until you flush the toilet.
We were in Austria for a couple of days, dealing individually with the toilet issue, until one day I turned to Drew as we were walking down the street and said "Man, have you noticed how whack the toilets are?"
He: "Yeah man! What is up with that?"
Me: "Seriously. I mean, there's no water, stuff just sits there."
He: "Oh I know."
Me: (hesitantly, and laughing) "And if you have a poop..."
He: (laughing loudly) "Oh man! It's just all up in your grill!"
We laughed really hard at the idea of a poop being 'all up in your grill', but actually it's true. That's exactly how it feels because it's not surrounded by water, and it's actually really close to your body. No such thing as Ghost Poos in Austria.
Another example of weird toilets, and the one to end this post, is the lovely toilet we encountered on the Czech train taking us from Prague to Munich. Flush it, and observe the snow-covered train tracks whizzing by below you. Now that's environmental consciousness.