The Dangers and Benefits of the Turkish Toilet

My first night in Turkey my new employer brought me to the school dorms in Darica, which is about 30 km outside Istanbul. He picked me up from a packed ferry station where my phone didn’t work and little did I know there were seven different docks spread out over a quarter of a mile. So, after waiting for about 3 hours to try and find this guy I’d never met I finally was on my way to school. Unfortunately, this was far from the most prominent shock I received that day.


When I arrived and toured the facilities, they emphasized how these were the special “teacher” ones…I’d get my own room, my own shower, and toilet. The room was alright, but I wasn’t ready for this:


I truly understood culture shock from this moment forward. While these bathrooms aren’t the only option, there are lots of them. Also, my shower was a janitors’ closet, with a curtain attached to PVC pipe – without hot water. It was less than stellar. It got me thinking about lots of things. Like, what do I do when I pee in these? Are these all over the world? How and why have we transitioned to the sit-down toilet? And, what’s that red hose for?

I felt the need to tell everyone about this; I couldn’t stop. I had finally found out squat toilets weren’t just for cabin outhouses. Apparently, they’re common in the Middle East and East Asia. There are little quirks and protocols associated with all of them. I assumed that squat toilets must’ve been the original, but in actuality, the first constructed toilets were flush ones from Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. Of course, Ancient Babylonia not only created the world’s first system of laws, but they also made the first hole in the ground and chamber pot. What innovation!

Afterwards, empires such as the Egyptians and the Han Dynasty all developed complicated drainage and fertilizer systems using the sit-down method. The Romans perfected these processes that were actually necessary to ensure the health and functionality of major cities.

Roman Aqueduct in France. Nature's most beautiful sewer. Source.
Roman Aqueduct in France. Nature’s most beautiful sewer. Wikimedia.

As the Dark Ages took down the sewage systems of Europe, the East continued to flourish, and to this day China and Japan still use their original squat toilet design. However, there ‘s one aspect that the Chinese and Romans shared in regards to their lavatory framework, is that they didn’t have dividers between toilets; in case you wanted it to be a shared experience. What a small world!

The Ottomans introduced the Alla Turka to the rest of Europe in the 19th century. What a time to be alive! For hygienic reasons, they actually became quite popular. As opposed to the Alla Franca or French toilets.

In Islam at this time, hygiene was especially important. I mean, if I had to pray five times a day and wash before each time, I’d probably be pretty clean too. In Islamic culture people always shake and eat with their right hands. It’s actually considered rude to do either of these with your left. And given the topic of this blog, I’m sure you can imagine why. Here is where those red tubes come into play. You see, they function as a bidet. I fail to see how a shared bidet is cleaner, but I digress. If you were to have dirty underwear, then you need to change before prayer. For this same reason, you’re supposed to sit when you pee. (I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Squeak.)

Typical ablution station in Istanbul
Typical ablution station in Istanbul

As sewage treatment processes resurged and humans decided they preferred sitting, the Alla Franca became the optimal method of evacuation, like it is today.

But is this really better for us?

While I admit the squat toilet is weird to me and makes me live in fear of touching anything in a bathroom (which were separate rooms in Ottoman times), there is a lot of evidence that the flush toilet is both worse for our bodies and the environment. Doctors maintain that the squatting position is more efficient for our intestinal tracts and actually helps prevent diseases. On the other hand, could you imagine your grandparent having to use one of these? Hmmm.

Unfortunately, flushing toilets currently account for about 30% of the average person’s household water usage.  The answer is to use less water, apparently. But the same unlucky and bright minds who ponder this question (where I wonder?)

giphyhave concluded that the best alternative is a waterless toilet in the mold of the traditional squat toilet.

That’s right, the revolution is near, and we could someday soon be forgoing a comfort that’s usually an afterthought, but for the benefit of our bodies’ and the planet.

3 thoughts

  1. I am calling the landlord immediately to seek a replacement. I just worry about the velocity factor but save that for another article.

    1. The velocity factor is nonexistent. It should be a crime. You essentially need to do all the work. As an American that’s not my style for home appliances.

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