Saudi Arabia: Why are the Toilet Habits so Different?


I receive enough private emails with queries about toilet habits that I realized this topic does merit a post of its own.  I am going to write about what I have personally seen and observed and hope that helps to shed some understanding or enlightenment.

   To begin with, one will find traditional Western style toilets and Eastern style toilets in Saudi Arabia.  The Western style toilets may or may not have a toilet seat, particularly if it is a public toilet.  Whereas, the Eastern style toilet is also referred to as a “two stepper,” and a male or female must squat to relieve themselves.

There is no guarantee that a Saudi washroom will have toilet paper.  The Eastern (or Saudi) way for cleanliness after having used the toilet, is to cleanse with water.  The water may come from a bidet, a small hose attached conveniently beside the toilet or with a pot filled with water and kept beside the toilet.  Depending on the individual’s coordination and style of spraying or splashing the water, the toilet seat and floor can become quite wet.  It’s not uncommon for a Saudi washroom whether public or private to have a drain on the floor to collect the spillage of water.  Most of the Saudi washrooms whether in a private residence or public will have a small squeegee in the room in order to collect and push the water to the drain.

The second part of a Saudi washroom has to do with preparing for the daily prayers.  Muslims are required to perform wudu prior to each prayer.  Wudu is making oneself clean for prayer.  This is not only ensuring that private places are clean but also washing the hands, feet and face.  Some Saudis will turn on the shower or the bathtub to clean off their feet but others will use the washroom sink to clean all of their body.  Whichever is chosen, this can also result in water generously applied and splashed over the body area being cleaned and many times create more pooling of water on the floor.  

For someone who has not been exposed to these customs it may seem the opposite of cleanliness.  It is true that if a washroom floor is not mopped up after pooling of water, the washroom can take on a musty smell and be more susceptible to germs and bacteria.  This is found more often in public washrooms.  In private homes, the family or domestic help will ensure that the washroom remains clean and dry.

It is not uncommon for many Saudi homes to have a pair of bathroom sandals right outside of or inside the washroom door.  This is done as a consideration for anyone entering the washroom.  

However, if a Saudi visits a new place and needs to use the washroom to either take care of nature or prepare for prayers and the washroom used is perhaps in a foreigner’s home or in another country, the Saudi may not be aware of how different his or her practices are from someone else.

Some Saudis will find the Western way of only using toilet paper to cleanse oneself to be unsanitary and unclean.  Actually, after living in Saudi Arabia, I personally found that I liked having a bidet to wash first and then use toilet paper to dry off.


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