I had speculated that Southeast Asia may cause a fair bit of culture shock. There’s the heat, the food, the markets, the more conservative way of dress, the language barrier, and of course my fears of giant cockroaches and squat toilets.
Turns out, I didn’t have much to fear. Most people speak a little English to communicate, I’ve only come across a handful of cockroaches, and I have not had to use one single squat toilet. I was even surprised myself at how fast Thailand felt like home. We did have to get used to some things, but they were all easily figured out. But apparently, the most perplexing thing of all was the common house toilet.
We’re in a new hotel on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. At this point, we’ve been in Thailand for just under a week. We’ve been adjusting to life in Thailand and getting ourselves comfy in our little apartment on Nimmanhaemin, but because of the lantern release festival in Mae Jo, we decided to book a hotel nearby.
I use the bathroom first and notice that there is no toilet paper (did they forget to stock?). I look around to see what else I can use, and see a box of Kleenex on the vanity and a hose next to the toilet. I pick up the hose. A stream of water shoots out. Naturally, like anyone with half a brain cell, I deduce that you’re supposed to wash off with the water spray and dry off with a towel or with the Kleenex.
“Hey babe, make sure you don’t flush the Kleenex when you use the bathroom, ok?” I remind D when I get out, knowing that it’s exactly the kind of thing he’d do, having been an OC kid all his life.
“What? There’s no toilet paper?”
“No, only Kleenex and you can’t flush those.”
Let me interrupt here and say that we’ve been having wireless problems all evening and the staff has come around a couple of times already to try to help us (but to no avail).
“Why wouldn’t you tell the staff that they didn’t give us toilet paper when they literally just came by?”
“Errr… I didn’t think I need to.”
“You’re so inefficient!! Why would you complain about no toilet paper and then not say anything when they were here?!” His voice rising.
“I didn’t complain. I just told you to not flush the Kleenex! You use the water spray thingy to wash, and if you use the Kleenex, then just throw it in the bin!”
“Well, I’m not putting it in the bin!!”
“You have to because you can’t flush Kleenex!”
“Because it doesn’t dissolve like normal toilet paper!” Is he seriously this stupid??
“Then call them and ask for toilet paper!” He demands.
“No! This is just what they do here! The plumbing probably can’t handle it!” I shout back, extremely annoyed at his lack of regard for custom.
Hmmm, now that I think about it, I have just been flushing toilet paper down the toilet up until now. So far, I’ve only ever used the toilet in our AirBnB rental (which has a hose next to it too, though I didn’t know what it was for), and it didn’t come with instructions. It didn’t occur to me to do differently from what I usually do back home. I make a mental note to no longer do that.
But D doesn’t agree. “Call them now and fix it!!!!”
“What’s your problem?! Just throw it in the bin!!!”
I begrudgingly call the front desk only because I want to stop yelling at each other. And to prove I’m right. “We don’t have flushable toilet paper,” I say, feeling like an idiot Westerner.
“Toilet paper?” the lady asks, confused. “It’s in a box on counter.”
“Yeah, but it’s not flushable.” I cringe at my own words.
Due to the language barrier, the nice lady doesn’t understand, and once again comes up to our room, this time with an armful of Kleenex packages. I take her to the bathroom and mime flushing the Kleenex. “No no no!” she exclaims. “In here!” And points to the bin.
Ha, just like what I said.
When she leaves, I turn to D and smirk. “So yeah, make sure you don’t flush the Kleenex, ok?”
Team D finally conceded.
That’s right. We had a screaming match over the correct way to clean your ass. I am smug that I’m in the right, though.
Postscript: Since then, I’ve never tossed paper into the toilet again and started using the hose. I gotta say that I really like it! If I ever settle down somewhere, I’m totally getting my toilet outfitted with a washing wand too!
Have you made any cultural blunders? Have you fought with your partner over something completely stupid?