a short guide to indoor plumbing, Kathmandu edition

Westerners who have traveled to the Mideast or Far-east all know (or fear) the ‘squatty potty,” although after a few mishaps you easily adjust. Basically, however, the world is divided into two types of people—those who squat and those who sit.

Our experience here, near Thamel, the tourist district, has consisted entirely of Western commodes, although I expect there are many neighborhoods in Kathmandu where a western commode would be hard to find. Every restaurant, hotel, or mall we’ve been in near our apartment has had a western commode.

What they have not always had is toilet paper. Many do, but from a Nepali perspective, it is unnecessary. What they have instead is bidets, basically a spray nozzle on a hose. Every toilet I’ve seen, both western or eastern, has a bidet. And if we used bidets in the USA, there would never have been a toilet paper shortage during the pandemic.

The effect is quite pleasant, actually, but there is one drawback—the tile floors are often wet, since not everyone has a good aim. Not to worry, in private homes (where you are more likely to find a squatty potty) you will find flip-flops or plastic sandals by the bathroom door. (Most Nepalis have smaller feet than I do, apparently.)

You will need the flip-flops because you left (or were supposed to have left) your shoes at the door when you came into the house. In public washrooms, the floor is just wet, but you still have your shoes on.

This works because the floor will be tiled, usually an absorbent, quick drying tile, angled toward a drain. Since there is a drain, I’ve seen several sinks where the water just drains out onto the floor, and flows toward the drain, although this is unlikely in a restaurant or store downtown. Unless you are in an upscale hotel, the showers work the same way, without curtains or separation.

None of this is wrong. It’s just different. This is the most important cross-cultural tip I can give you. It’s just different. Things that don’t work for you often work fine for other people. Things have evolved in certain ways. I’m sure Nepalis would have been fine if they never saw a western commode. But they want you to be comfortable, or at least as comfortable as they can understand or afford. And they want you to spend money in their store.

Just carry some toilet paper, and you’ll be fine.

Bonus tip: You will see signs that say to-let. Don’t be confused. This is not a washroom. This is British speak for “for rent.”

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