Restrooming Through Turkey

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I have read Nuray’s blog for several months now and I see that it is always chock filled with all sorts of information to make travel more interesting and entertaining, definitely tastier and also easier and more convenient. Leaving your comfy home and charging off as a traveler can take some nerve. But, having someone with experience describe places and explain practices can make travel much less intimidating.

But, when I think about my own concerns about travel, I find a big one that Nuray’s blog has totally ignored, and I appreciate the opportunity to remedy this shortcoming. It is what I will genteelly refer to as “relieving oneself”.

“What would I do if I’m on a long bus ride and…”

“Where would I find a place to…”

“How would I ask where I can…?”

(Nuray’s note: Asking where is the ‘restroom’/’bathroom’ as it is used in the United States does not work in Turkey. Use the words “tuvalet nerede?” (for ‘where is the toilet?’) when asking or look for signs say “WC” or “Tuvalet” for the public bathrooms.)

These are questions that I think worry any new traveler and beginning your travels with a little tutorial under your belt may alleviate some concerns. But first, my credentials: I pee. I am very good at it and sometimes do it often. I have peed for literally all my life. My uninterrupted experience shows no sign of decline. I come by all of this naturally since my mother was well known for such emergencies and peeing was a key element in many family events. For example, my typical Christmas Eve throughout childhood consisted of an unwavering sequence of events: (i) a Church service followed by (ii) a drive home, during which my father would decide that we needed to buy beer, followed by (iii) my mother saying we needed to drop her off at home first so she could use the bathroom, followed by (iv) dropping her off and driving off to buy beer, followed by (v) a return home to discover that Santa Claus had magically brought toys while we were away… Surprise! While I can’t explain why I didn’t see through this sham until about the time I started to shave, I think you can see how critical peeing was to my life.

I have had personal experience with urinatory emergencies both domestically and in a wide range of other countries, so let me describe how it works in Turkey.

The most important thing to know is that Turks are universally understanding and helpful. I have never been turned down if I ask a waiter, or even most shop keepers “tuvalet nerede?”- which is “where is a bathroom?”. The reaction has always been one of helpful attentiveness – not even any embarrassing amusement. Just a few months ago, in dire straits, I rushed into a barbershop in Gundogan and blurted this phrase out. Without hesitating, the barber put down his razor, led me to his backroom living quarters and offered me his personal bathroom. Now, that is caring! Similarly, in restaurants, I’ve never experienced any awkwardness. It is possible to eat at a restaurant that does not have its own bathroom, but they always have worked out arrangements to use one at a neighboring establishment- everyone helpfully directing you to it when you enter…. and all very smoothly.

Okyanus fish restaurant, Gumusluk, Bodrum, separate bathroom for the guests

Okyanus fish restaurant, Gumusluk, Bodrum, separate bathroom for the guests

Yalikavak bus station, Bathrooms are located behind the blue minibus

Yalikavak bus station, Restrooms are located behind the blue minibus

My impression is that there are more very clean public bathrooms in Turkey than in the U.S., and like many lifelong pee-ers, I tend to catalog their locations for later reference. There is one in many town squares ( e.g. Bogazici), at all bus terminals (e.g. Yalikavak), on ferrys (e.g. the Bosphorus cruise , even a few doors down from the Sultanite jewelry store in Istanbul. As you stroll on the pier in any seaside town, you are very likely to find a very usable public restroom. Men use the “Bay” door while women use the “Bayan” door. For some public restrooms, there is a tiny booth where an attendant collects a small fee (currently 1 lira – 40 cents or less) to defray the cost of cleaning. You generally pay on the way out and as a precursor to our much more recent Purell® craze, it is customary for the attendant to drip a bit of Turkish Lemon cologne into your cupped hands as a sterilizer. Nobody likes a negative bathroom experience which is why those who operate commercial bathrooms often try to be very accommodating to guests and use a litany of modern conveniences such as phs hand dryers to ensure that their visit was a pleasant one.

I don’t mean to say that the Turkish bathroom experience is always a perfect one. Like any place in the world, there is the chance of wandering into something disagreeable. But, generally, the experience is a positive one. There are only two things I would caution about and they are not unpleasantries so much as they are things that are probably unfamiliar to you.

The first is the type of toilet you may encounter. Many Turkish bathrooms offer you a choice of either the conventional, Western type (I assume no instructions are needed here) or what is sometimes known as a “squat” or “Indian” toilet. I generally don’t take photographs on trips, and, not so oddly, Nuray has no collection of restroom interiors photos, so I’ve taken one from the web below.

Now, with the words “squat” and “toilet” used together in the same sentence, I can already feel your blood pressure rising, so let me step right in and remind you that I have never been in a Turkish bathroom that didn’t offer you a choice. So, the squat toilet is optional, but you might want to just try it out. After all, you are traveling and looking for new experiences, and no one else can see you in a toilet stall anyway. Besides, I have seen articles arguing that the squat toilet is much the healthier alternative. This all has to do with the angles of certain internal “whatnots” that I don’t care to get into here. I am neutral on the health topic but I can tell you that there are stool-like products in U.S. health food store that will help you squat when using a Western version toilet, so the idea is not bizarre unless you are one of those sensible people that consider health food stores themselves to be a little bizarre.

Either toilet style can be used for either…, well, purpose. And, using such a toilet seems pretty simple in my albeit limited experience. I refer you to some experts to describe the complete process. Just one thing: take seriously this source’s advice to carry a small amount of toilet paper with you always, whether you plan on visiting a squat or a Western toilet. There are just a thousand reasons why any random restroom in the world might not have any.

The second thing that you may be unfamiliar with has to do with the fact that many bathrooms- the majority of places near the sea or with septic systems– strongly encourage you not to flush ANY paper products down. If you were to consistently flush paper products down the loo, you’d likely have to hire a professional that offers septic tank services as your system would likely block. If you’re not sure you’re in a bathroom that can’t have paper products flushed, you will know that you are in such a bathroom by two telltale indicators. First, there is often a sign that says something like “tuvalet ka??d? koymay?n lütfen”. Second, there is invariably a small metal waste can- usually with a little foot-pedal that operates a very tightly-fitting cover. When you see these indicators, just be prepared, because they actually do mean not to flush ANY paper products and the obvious question that you should be asking at this point is: “what do I do with my toilet paper, then?” The answer is this: collapse your soiled paper up into a ball, roll it with another strip of sheets to make it nice and compact, and place the whole production into the waste can. That is it…. its that simple. I know what you are thinking: a waste can full of urine and defecation: yuk! Here you have to rely on my rule of ancient cultures, which is that they may have done things differently, but there is always a whole lot of workable logic in all the old ways. In this case, the metal waste can with the tight lid has little or no odor and invariably has a plastic bag in it to make for quick and convenient emptying. The garbage goes out often and this goes with it. Believe me, it all just works.

Supermarkets are great choices for finding bathrooms

Supermarkets are great choices for finding restrooms

So, that’s it. The point I have been trying to make is that there is nothing awkward or unpleasant or even put-offish in all of this. By the way, I believe I have made this point without ever once succumbing to this topic’s huge tendency to evoke nervous jokes. For example, I avoided referring to the act of strolling along seaside town piers as “passing the water”. I could have done that, but I didn’t. I also did not use the term “relieving” when explaining how understanding a culture can reduce travel stress. I could even have described the waste can’s little foot-pedal as “wee”, but I didn’t. And, above all, I veered away from this blog entry’s original title, which was “Peeing in Pamukkale”. OK, I got that out of my system. I hope you find the information useful.

Order a glass of Turkish tea or a small cup of Turkish tea at any cafe, and enjoy the use of the restrooms until the next stop

Order a glass of Turkish tea or a small cup of Turkish tea at any cafe, and enjoy the use of the restrooms until the next stop

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4 thoughts on “Restrooming Through Turkey

  1. Marie Wagner

    Yes, Al , you did it again ,you made me laugh out loud .We are very fortunate in America we take flushing for granted .

    1. nurayaykin Post author

      Marie, Thank you. Al is really hilarious.

      BTW, Turkish toilets (including the “alaturka” ones) are also flushable. But, you need to get to adjust to the process. It is only at certain areas, especially near the seashore, you should not throw the toilet paper into the toilet. The septic systems can mess up. It is just like being on a sailboat.

  2. Doris (Schultz) Idzikowski

    Thank you Al. This makes my survey of bathrooms complete. From outhouses to the squat toliet. A friend had related to me that in Germany bathrooms are few and far between and the hillsides are adorned with strips of toliet paper. My survey started when my kids were young. No, back that up. When I became pregnant. I have scoped out bathrooms in malls, restaurants, etc. I have even frequented the mens’ room on a few occasions. Once at Notre Dame, friend’s son went in and wouldn’t come out.


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