On Toilets in China – or How I Learned to Love the Squat Toilet

NOTE: for everyone still awaiting news of where I’m moving, I’m still waiting for some official paperwork before I can make a formal announcement. Please bear with me — and in the meantime, please enjoy this blog post. 🙂

One of these days, my husband and I will eventually have our own home. Sometimes we like to talk about it. And when we do, occasionally the conversation turns to the bathroom.

Now, I’m not of those home improvement TV fanatics who already has her dream house mapped out down to the shower tiles and the faucets. But I can tell you there’s one non-negotiable for our future dream bathroom or bathrooms.

There must be a sitting toilet for me, and a squat toilet for Jun.

That might sound like a “wild and crazy” combination for one bathroom. But if you visit the average public toilet in the Hangzhou region of China, where my husband is from, there’s nothing wild and crazy about it.

Your typical public bathroom here in the city includes a mix of squat toilets and sitting toilets. Usually three out of four of the toilets, if not more, are squatters. But you’ll always find at least one or two sitting toilets for people who want them.

No matter where he is, my husband will almost always prefer a squat toilet. That’s the toilet style he grew up with.

But ask me what toilet I would prefer and I’ll say, “It depends.” At home, I always want a sitting toilet. Outside the house, however, I prefer squatters, thank you.

In my pre-China American life, squat toilets did not exist. I was raised on the sitting toilets you’ll find all across America in homes and public toilets everywhere. The closest I ever came to something different was the dry toilets we called “pit potties” that I would use in state and national parks. But even those had a seat just like the sitting flush toilets I used everywhere else.

Of course, when I signed on to come to China I soon learned I would face a new kind of toilet – the squat toilet. Like many Westerners unaccustomed to crouching down to do my business, I felt a twinge of anxiety over this new toilet I would face in China. Would my legs be up to the challenge? I never would have admitted it to anyone, but I secretly worried I might actually face the danger of “falling in,” something you would never want to happen with any public toilet.

Coming to China was like total toilet immersion. Except for my own apartment (which thankfully had a sitting toilet), squatters were everywhere: at work, the gym, and the apartment that belonged to my boyfriend at the time. Yes, even spending the night at his place meant squatting down.

As it turns out, when you’re given only one option for relieving yourself and you really, really need to go, you adjust pretty quickly. Even if it means wobbling about as you’re crouching over a squatter on the train. (Thank goodness for those handles on the wall.)

I also discovered something else over time: I appreciated the squat toilets. Yes, whenever I was in a public bathroom and presented the option to squat, I felt grateful that I could crouch down instead of sitting down.

You might be asking, “Why would someone raised on a sitting toilet actually prefer squat toilets in public places?”

Because with squat toilets, your behind doesn’t touch anything. You hover safely above the toilet with zero contact.

Even though studies have largely debunked the myth of dirty toilet seats, what woman hasn’t come to a public bathroom to find the occasional pool of urine or worse on the seat or front of the pot? I don’t know about you, but I find it enormously relieving to have my butt spared these issues in China.

It makes me wish squat toilets were available in America’s public restrooms.

For now, though, I’m grateful I live in China. This is a country that offers me the comfort of a sitting toilet in private, and the relief of having a squat toilet in public restrooms.

It’s also a country where one American wife and her Chinese husband can envision a dream home with a sitting toilet and a squat toilet in the same bathroom.

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14 Replies to “On Toilets in China – or How I Learned to Love the Squat Toilet”

  1. Anytime I’m in a club or busy restaurant with unisex restrooms on a Saturday night, I think about how squat toilets would be a better choice.

    At least until men learn how to aim.

  2. I loved the squat toilets, except for the occasional one that hadn’t seemed to have been cleaned in days and you had to step in the stuff around it. My husband said, in his opinion, that was one of the reasons shoes are ALWAYS removed when you enter a home in China, unlike in the US, where some people leave their shoes on. He would see someone in their home with their shoes still on propped up on a couch and be like… Nope. Not sitting on that couch, ever. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sara! That actually makes a ton of sense about why people here are expected to remove their shoes. And given the fact that public restrooms in America really aren’t much better (public bathroom floors have been proven to harbor tons of bacteria) it does make you feel weird when people don’t remove their shoes in the house. Ugh. I would definitely not sit on that couch either!

  3. For the able-bodied the “squatter” is just fine and very practical. How do they accommodate the handicapped, pregnant women, or even somebody who sprained an ankle accidentally? It is not funny when this latter group of folks “have to go”and can’t find the proper facilities. Do the Chinese have at least one sit down toilet along side multiple “squatters” even out in the country side?

    1. Hey Dan, you do make an excellent point. I think this is the reason that now more and more public bathrooms across China do have a sitting toilet along with the squatters. Now I’ve not done a survey, but based on my experiences in Hangzhou and the surrounding area, I would say the vast majority of public restrooms now have sitting toilets. Even a public restroom I encountered in the rural areas I did find sitting toilets there.

  4. Squat toilets must be good for keeping your legs strong.

    In 1983, when we visited Xiamen, I didn’t come upon any sitting toilets. The squatting toilets I remember were dirty and one long trough for everyone to use without privacy. The home we visited only had chamber pots. I’m glad things have improved since then.

    1. They definitely do keep your legs strong!

      I can imagine what those toilets were like — I’ve encountered similar ones when I traveled around China some years ago. Things have indeed improved a lot.

  5. I do have to confess that I squat on top of a sitting toilet (with the seat lifted) whenever I am in a public bathroom without available squat toilet. I would wipe up the shoe stamp after use.
    My action annoy people if they ever find out. But I am sorry, I can’t stand that there are usually pee and once some white stuff near the seat.

  6. I love this post! But I am opposite to you I think…I think I would like a combo of sitting and squatter at home, but only using sitting in public. I like the squatter because it puts your body into a position that makes it more natural and easy to…um…do your business. Here in America, I’ve seen people invent a footstool that you keep by your sitting toilet in order to create the posture, because of how your organs and such line up. (Trying not to make this gross. :P) So I wouldn’t mind having that at home!

    But I find it difficult to use the squatter without removing my pants entirely…Maybe you have a suggestion? Because I feel compelled to do that, I have to take them off over my shoes, which have just walked in a dirty public restroom floor, which feels so gross to me…I hope I make sense, haha! 🙂

    1. Thanks Christine!

      Hmmm, I think the key to using a squatter without removing your pants entirely is to just pull down only the top part of your pants to your knee area. You can hold them in place with one hand if necessary.

  7. Brings back memories of my first encounter with public toilets in Shanghai–and me wondering why a local, downtown Starbucks–in full view of the city’s majestic skyline, does not have its own facilities for paying customers….

    1. Good point about the Starbucks. The one I used to visit in Hangzhou didn’t have facilities either — you had to go down the hallway. Thankfully they were close by but still, would have been better to have something in the Starbucks itself.

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