CULTURAL DIFFERENCES: WHY DO YOU CLOSE THE BATHROOM DOOR?

By: The Cultural Story-Weaver

While sharing a meal with some global friends recently, we discussed the intriguing topic of toilets and bathrooms—and cultural differences. It’s quite a stimulating cultural topic, and I highly recommend that you join in the conversation.

UNNECESSARY WAITING

Many times, in my very own home, I have waited impatiently in front of a closed door for very long minutes—waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom. I have pictured a person sitting on the “throne” with a magazine or cell phone, lingering for way too long.

I ask myself, “What in the world are they doing in there for so long?!”

I’m always shocked to discover that the “someone” was actually “no one.”

There was NO ONE in the bathroom!

Then why in the world was the bathroom door closed?!?!

Why IN THE WORLD was the door closed?! And WHERE IN THE WORLD do people close bathroom doors when there is NO ONE in the bathroom?!?!

The answer to this question is surprisingly . . . “MANY PLACES”!Places in the world like France—and I’m married to a Frenchman who always closes bathroom doors.

WHERE IN THE WORLD?

The following week, I brought up the “potty talk” and cultural differences at our “Oasis of Cultures” (international community group) that meets several times a month. In talking to my European and Indian friends, I discovered that many countries outside the good ‘ole USA close the bathroom doors when not in use.

Perhaps this is why:

“In North America (especially in the USA), it is quite common to leave bathroom and/or toilet doors ajar when the room is not in use. It tells one at a glance whether the bathroom is occupied. In many European homes, however, the tradition is to keep bathroom doors securely closed at all times. I think this is probably a heritage from the days when ‘water closets’ were malodorous places and one sought to keep unpleasant odors out of the rest of the house.” Merry Andrews.

In all of our homes in France, we had separate “W.C.” (British origin—”Water Closets”), with nothing in the small room besides a flush toilet and, sometimes, a tiny hand washing sink.

This was a completely separate room from the “bathroom” (salle de bains) where you would have a larger sink(s), bathtub, and/or shower. It is even quite common to find a washer and dryer in a European “bathroom,” and even a “bidet.” 

If you don’t know what a “bidet” is, it’s a plumbing fixture or sink located in the bathroom, used for cleaning certain parts of the human body.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bidet)

It suddenly occurred to me that this is probably the reason why many modern, public “W.C.” in Europe now have lock dials that show “red” for “occupied” and “green” for “unoccupied.” It spares people from waiting impatiently outside an unoccupied W.C.

Actually, I think that I have seen these red/green dials on “porta potties” in the U.S. Those doors must stay closed to contain the odors!

Also, in many public “W.C.” in Europe, you have to “pay to pee.” (https://culturalstoryweaver.com/where-in-the-world-do-you-pay-to-pee/) So, don’t forget to have your coins ready!

OOPS! LANGUAGE BLOOPER!

An American friend told me a story about his recent trip to France. He walked proudly into a restaurant, with his carefully-formed French sentence, and asked, “Où est la salle de bains?” (“Where is the bathroom?”)

The man behind the bar looked at him puzzled and made a gesture of “washing under his armpits” and asked him if he needed a shower.

The American tourist laughed and said, “No! Pee-Pee!”The bartender exclaimed, “Ah, les toilettes?!

That’s another word for “le W.C.”

Don’t forget—when traveling in Europe, the toilet door will surely be closed. However, there’s a good chance that NO ONE is in there! Just make sure to knock!

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Why is it Important to Have Cultural Awareness?

By The Cultural Story-Weaver

Worldview is “how we see the world.” Cultural awareness, on the other hand, is “the ability of standing back from ourselves and becoming aware of our cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions,” according to the Culturosity Group. It’s asking ourselves questions like:

Why do we do things that way?

How do we see the world?

Why do we react in that particular way?

There are Four Degrees of Cultural Awareness (Culturosity)

1. My Way is the Only Way

People are aware of their own way of doing things and believe that their way is the only way. They tend to ignore cultural differences and their impact during this stage. Culturosity refers to this as the “Parochial Stage.” This was my degree of cultural awareness before I first left America at the age of 19 to study in France. I thought my American way was the only way . . . until I was exposed to another culture and saw another way of living.

I didn’t even realize that I carried my American culture with me in my suitcase until it suddenly collided with another culture—the French culture.

You can read more about my cross-cultural collision in “MY STORY”.

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2. I Know Their Way, But My Way is Better

During this stage, people are aware of other ways of doing things. However, they still consider their way as the best way. People tend to perceive cultural differences as sources of problems and ignore them in order to reduce their significance. Culturosity refers to this as the “Ethnocentric Stage.”

In a recent conversation with my friend from Norway, she was describing her last trip to Guatemala to visit her husband’s family. While there, she struggled with their cultural differences around the notion of time. Norwegians are very prompt; whereas, Latin Americans can sometimes be “late” . . . sometimes “very late.” When my friend challenged her husband’s family about being on time, they realized (maybe for the first time) that there were obvious cultural differences between them. However, the problem, the tension, and the significance of their cultural differences were ignored. My Norwegian friend would simply have to adjust to their way and their notion of time.

3. My Way and Their Way

People become aware of their own way of doing things and others’ ways of doing things. According to the situation, they will choose the way that seems best to them. In this stage, people tend to realize that there are both problems and benefits resulting from cultural differences. They begin to look at cultural diversity and search for new solutions and alternatives. Culturosity refers to this as the “Synergistic Stage.”

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As an American married to a Frenchman, this is the reality of our cross-cultural marriage and family life. We are almost always aware of our different ways of doing things (American and French), and we are forced to constantly choose the way that seems best for each situation. (Which language will we speak in our home? Which Christmas traditions will we celebrate this year? How will be discipline and educate our children?) There are obvious advantages and disadvantages in each of our cultures—leading to tensions, problems, and benefits—but we try to use our cultural diversity for our good and the good of our children.

After years of cross-cultural marriage and family life . . . we gradually developed “Our Way.”

4. Our Way

People from various cultural backgrounds gather together to create their own culture of shared meanings. They dialogue together, create new meanings and new rules for a particular situation. Culturosity refers to this stage as the “Participatory Third Culture Stage.” This is the beauty of our many years of cross-cultural marriage and family life. It also describes the uniqueness of our “Oasis of Cultures” (https://culturalstoryweaver.com/i-found-my-oasis-of-cultures/) that we have formed around the world. We love to gather together—representing 10 or more countries and a smattering of diverse cultures and languages. We dialogue together, we learn from each other, we share our cultures with each other, and we create a new “third culture” together—an “international culture” wherever we are.

Why is Cultural Awareness Important?

Culturosity is defined as:

1. A desire to learn about and engage with other cultures

2. An essential mindset in a global world

3. Today’s competitive advantage

Having cultural awareness makes us global citizens! It helps us break down cultural barriers and build cultural bridges. I know it’s a cliché, but it truly can help us “change the world.” When we break down those cultural barriers, we learn to love those who are different from us. We begin tosee the beauty in our diversity which truly can “make the world a better place.”

As we begin to see our own culture and understand ourselves better, we will be better able to relate to people of other cultures—resulting in less cultural conflict and more cultural connection.

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If you would like to put on your cultural glasses and develop your cultural awareness, join us on the “5-Day Cultural Awareness Challenge.” Sign up here.

Let’s Weave Cultures!

When you look at the four degrees of cultural awareness according to Culturosity, where do you see yourself? What can you do to develop your own cultural awareness—expand your global tapestry—right where you are? We invite you to tell us your own cultural stories and global adventures . . . as you engage with the world, breaking down barriers, building bridges, and “weaving cultures”!

Please visit the Cultural Story-Weaver at: www.culturalstoryweaver.com

Try a Stray-cation

By Matthew and Tracy DeJong

Ethical travel has become more prevalent as travellers process the ways that they are often straining the location they are visiting, rather than contributing to it. As post-colonial attitudes shape our understanding of the world, visitors are often sensitized to what they can offer and learn from a culture, rather than simply being consumers. Those beliefs turn to asking not what I can get from my adventure, but what can I give during my short time there.

Of course, there are many travel outlets that specialize in conscious travel, taking into account the local people and culture, history and sensitivities. Many choose to bypass such outlets and conduct their own research regarding ways we can give back to the local residents. However, such contributions need not always be people-oriented.

While visiting Rome with our children, we were of course enthralled with the sites we’d seen pictures of our entire lives. The Colosseum in all its majesty. The Pantheon that dates back to Marcus Agrippa. The wonder of Trevi Fountain. Yet, the place that we returned to three times with our own family, including out last day in Italy, was none other than the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.

Found in the heart of Rome among ruins—believed to be the infamous place where Caesar met his end—this home for unwanted felines houses about 150 stray cats. Some missing eyes, some missing legs, and some just neglected by their owners, these cats first found a home among the excavation that started in 1929. As the barriers in this historical location prevented humans from entering and vandalizing the site, cats enjoyed safety and independence, as well as the food that was thrown into the area by passing residents and tourists. Lounging on partial victory temples, pillars, and portico steps, the cats are cared for by “cat ladies” who have seen the cat population swell to almost 250.


Though feeling a little jealous at first that the felines were allowed to freely wander the ruins, we were pleasantly surprised to climb down the steps to the underground shelter and office and be among the cats for as long as we liked. Proud of their mission, the staff allowed us to pet and play, while drawing our attention to calendars, t-shirts and other merchandise whose proceeds help fund the local pet population.

You can continue your relationship with the sanctuary long after you return home by setting up monthly donations to help with the costs of feeding, vaccinating and the much-needed veterinary assistance. And thinking that such a place might be an anomaly in such a tourist-driven city, it is not the only one in Rome. There lies another cat sanctuary at the Protestant Cemetery near the Pyramid of Cestius. So, if you want to give back to the culture you are visiting in a way that will engage your children, young and not so young, consider visiting local shelters, sanctuaries, and those who are helping the most vulnerable animals in the region.

Upon returning home from somewhere in Europe, South America or Asia, people may ask you: where was the most important part of your journey to such an ancient, historical culture?

They might be a little surprised, but nonetheless warmly interested, if you describe exactly where you were “straying”.