Sit or squat?


I recently had the pleasure of a dear friend and her sister visiting me in Beijing at the start of their first trip to China, they were blown away by much of what they saw.                           They had endless questions about life here, and one of the questions was about the toilets. This subject often comes up with visitors new to China, particularly with women.

Why, asked my friend, would a very new, up-market hotel or restaurant have both squat toilets and western seated toilets in the rest room?  Why didn’t they just go for the ‘modern and hygienic’ system we are all used to?

The thing is that many, if not most, Chinese prefer the squat loo system .  They find the idea of sitting where others have sat fairly disgusting.  Chinese learn to squat as young children, and seem to be able to do it easily , which is not true for most westerners (including myself – it is hell on the knees).                                                                                Many hotels and other modern buildings in China which are equipped with western loos, have to put up special notices to tell inexperienced Chinese that they should not stand on the loo seat and squat, but should sit on the seat.

Using a loo in ChinaEven if one has superb bladder control, there will be times when one is caught short and has to use a toilet that not westernised –  this will certainly be the case when travelling outside the major cities. You need to be prepared.

Toilet signThe plumbing for most of the squat loos (and some western ones too) cannot cope with toilet paper and so there is usually a bin or basket beside the loo into which you put the used paper – needless to say this is often very squalid and smelly, and the floor can be absolutely horrid.

        China toilets 2

Bear in mind that in most cases loo paper will not have been provided, so you need to take your own packet of tissues in with you.

In some smaller communities any toilets may be communal and just consist of a room with half-height walls separating each user, no doors, and the drainage system just a trench which runs underneath each section and along which water flows every so often to carry away the mess.  Personally I avoid these like the plague if I can – I am just too damned First World.  China toilets 1

So, how to cope with the squat loo without becoming hysterical and developing a phobia; these are my tips:

1. If possible go to the loo with a friend or other female. There are no hooks on the doors for handbags (if indeed there are doors) so you take it in turns to hold each other’s bags, umbrella, shopping etc. If you have no-one to help carry your stuff, sling your handbag handle over your head and have it dangling in front of you.  And if you are insane enough to have a designer handbag that has only short handles – more fool you. In these situations Prada is nada and a Kelly will get smelly.

2. Always (I cannot stress this enough) carry some small packs of tissues with you, loo paper is not generally provided. Likewise a pack of wet-wipes and/or a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

3. When in the loo, hoick up your skirt and tuck it into your waistband, or if wearing trousers roll up the bottom of each leg, this is to prevent any of  your clothing making contact with the (probably wet and dirty) floor.

4. Position yourself with your rear-end nearest to the drain-hole, invariably this means you will be with your back to the wall/piping and you facing outwards.

Chinese squat loo 2Put your feet on the foot plates or wider apart.  Squat as low as you are able. Do what you have to do.

5. After you have wiped with your own tissues, put them in the bin or whatever receptacle is provided.

6. Exit as gracefully as possible and then clean your hands with your wet wipes.

7. Leave the area with a shudder of relief that the whole ordeal is over.

About herschelian

Recently moved to Beijing from London - its all new to me! Trying to learn Chinese, and what makes this city tick.
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13 Responses to Sit or squat?

  1. Sheila Taylor says:

    Unspeakable – thank goodness for strong thigh muscles!

  2. 国樑 KL says:

    Oh, stomach cramped due to laughing (reading this article is really enjoyable) and vomiting (think of the “brownie” and smell).

    In Singapore, I thought the female toilets should be more assessable but my wife said I was not imaginative enough.*:( sad

    9 years ago I was with my family at Suzhou. I brought my son into an open toilet. Open as in there was a septic tank (it is a shit pool to be more exact) of about 10m long and there wasn’t any partition. Big and small businesses just did it there as if no one besides you. I reminded my son to be careful and within the next 5 seconds, he dropped one of his sandals into the one metre deep tank. I had to practice all sorts of martial art to pick it up and … oh shit.

  3. Delia Charton says:

    This is serious advice – so have no idea why I am weeping with laughter! Think I should print and keep in my passport for future information!

  4. Kit says:

    Thanks you – very useful information. I remember when France used to have quite a lot of the squat toilets, don’t know if they still do. It was usually in country areas and it took a fair bit of getting used to!

  5. camparigirl says:

    I am not saying I am totally with the Chinese on this one (there are indeed some squat toilets still to be found in Italy) but I will not be caught dead sitting on a public toilet – or even the toilet in the house of someone I don’t really know – regardless of disposable seat covers. So, in the end, I end up squatting all the same, albeit from a closer distance…..I can’t believe I just wrote a whole paragraph about this!

  6. herschelian says:

    Thank you all for being brave enough to write comments on what is a rather in-delicate subject. KL – as far as I am concerned, I would have abandoned the sandal and bought him a new pair!!
    Sheila – your thigh muscles are probably in better shape than mine.
    Kit – Thank you for reminding us that this is/was not an entirely Chinese problem.
    Dee – You have been warned of what lies ahead when you come to visit us!!
    Camparigirl – Your comment reminded me of what my Grandma always told me ‘If you go to a public lavatory, or use the facilities in the home of someone you don’t know, never sit down, a lady always hovers’ Hovering – that should be my new loo mantra!

    • KL says:

      Haha, I very much like to abandon the pair of sandals then. After considering my son would have to walk bare footed for about 1km under the summer sun…. Sigh.

  7. Last year, Swansea University in Wales gave students toilet training after complaints about the state of the loos on their campus. I wrote about it in my Chinese blog: Do please sit on the toilet appropriately to avoid mess and the university also produced some posters to show students how to sit, instead of squatting. The university said “The posters were produced to help address cultural differences that were unfortunately causing damage and hygiene issues.” However, I don’t think it mentioned the nationalities of the students.

  8. Jennie says:

    Excuse me – why didn’t you write this before our visit?

  9. lostnchina says:

    HAHAHA – anyone in China who blogs has a mandatory post about toilets. I once had an employee STAND on the upright toilets when peeing and then she slipped, fell and hit her head on the porcelain bowl. Paramedics were called and everything. Peeing and bowel movements in China are much more exciting, apparently.

  10. Aussa Lorens says:

    Oh my gosh– heart melts. I spent some time in China and ran the gammut of squattie experiences. This takes me back, way back. My most favorite squattie was definitley the one I had to use on an overnight sleeper train. *love*

  11. Aussa Lorens says:

    Oh and PS I totally mis Jiaozi :-/

  12. Alan S says:

    Love the Squat dont Sit poster! On Indian railways there is the added thrill of an open view of speeding tracks below you. As a male and standing, this was a safe 6 feet away from me.

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