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Culture Shock in Public Restrooms – Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca is a haven of many rights… beautiful valleys, delicious food, exciting tours, ancient Zapotec ruins, colorful traditions and warm, friendly people… but eventually you have to go to the bathroom!
Now if you’re in a place that supports international tourism, there’s no culture shock when you’re 1 and 2 years old. You go to the bathroom like any other place in the States, the only difference is in the small figures. The difference between the men’s room and the women’s room is the sombrero and traditional dress, (not always in that order). Still, if you’re in Oaxaca, you’re probably going to want to experience it real Mexico. If not, you go somewhere like Cancun or Acapulco where everyone speaks English and you can pay in dollars. But if you’re going to be here in Oaxaca, you have to accept this.Trubus“, (barriers), here. Let me tell you a little story:
A few years ago I was sitting at the ADO bus station in Oaxaca on my way to the airport in Mexico City where I wanted to catch a flight to Miami to visit my father. (If you’re on a budget and want to save money, it’s a good idea to fly out of Mexico City instead of Oaxaca.) Anyway…I was sitting in the terminal munching on a Twix bar when I saw one. A tall, thin, fair-haired woman runs with me to the bathroom – obviously in a hurry to get there. Completely blowing off the woman sitting behind the desk in front of the bathroom, she hurried into the ladies’ room. Cautiously, the short, chubby, dark-skinned woman behind the desk stood up and shouted to the foreigner, “Señorita! Senorita! SENOORRRRITTTTAAA!!!!”
Half scared out of her wits, the blonde haired woman peeked through the bathroom door, but before she could say anything the attendant snapped, “5 pesos por favor!”. Now completely out of the bathroom, the foreign woman approached the desk where the attendant sat down and pointed to a sign over her right shoulder that read in English, “You have to pay 5 pesos to use these facilities”. Reading that sign, obviously not seen due to the urgency of the situation, the foreigner got angry, told the bathroom attendant something not too complimentary, and went back to her seat in the terminal. I eased her into her chair and began muttering through tight lips to a gentleman next to her who could have been her brother because he looked like a male version of her.
I just sat watching the show because I forgot to bring a book or buy a magazine and was so bored. After about 20 measly minutes where I could see the foreign lady’s face slowly turning red, she unknowingly stood up and ran towards the bathroom. Reaching the attendant’s desk, clearly aware of the situation the foreign woman was in, she cracked a half smile as she dropped the 5 pesos on the desk and entered the bathroom without even taking the toilet paper from the attendant’s hand. out the door
I just shook my head and acknowledged the difficulties many foreigners face when they come and partake in Mexican culture for a while. I know it’s not always easy but you can’t come down here and not be flexible in situations like this. Patience, understanding, and then more patience are essential if you want to enjoy Oaxaca or Mexico in general. If you want to enjoy the culture at all and believe me you must accept these cultural differences, the pros and cons are more than 100 to 1. Now let me tell you about other “anomalies” when going to the bathroom in Oaxaca to save you. Trauma:
Aside from the fact that you’ll probably pay between 2 and 5 pesos to enter a “public” bathroom, you may also be given a moderate amount of toilet paper when you enter because the stalls don’t have toilet paper rolls, in most cases. Now let me tell you, they do this to save money, so sometimes they give you very little toilet paper which doesn’t really help if Montezuma is visiting you. So please learn from my very pleasant experiences… Always carry extra toilet paper wherever you go. You’ll notice that many bus and taxi drivers in Oaxaca have toilet paper taped to the dashboard and windshield. Well… that’s why!
Now upon entering the bathroom stall and closing the door behind you, (it may or may not have a lock), you will notice that there is no seat in the bathroom. That’s right! If you are going to sit at all, you have to sit directly on porcelain. If you do, you’ll have to hurry because the edge of the toilet is going to cut off your circulation so fast that it’ll be hard to walk when you’re done, trust me. Oh… and when you’re done and try to flush the bowl, there might be no water. In these cases, bathroom attendants leave buckets outside the stalls and give you a place to dip your bucket and flush the toilet.
When you finish using the essentials and go to wash your hands and… ooooppssss…. forgot… no water! That’s when you “Jikara“, (plastic bowl), and go back to where you can get water to flush the toilet. Fill up Jikara And go back to the sink and wash your hands the old fashioned way.
Now I don’t want to scare you. If you’re only visiting Oaxaca for a week or two, you won’t find much of this. But if you’ve been coming down for more than a month, or living like me, you’ll definitely have to deal with it at one point or another. After a while, believe it or not, it all becomes quite natural. So natural that when I go back to the states, I’m sure I’ll be sitting on the porcelain, leaving 5 pesos outside the bathroom door, washing my hands with a bowl of water, and showering by filling my bucket 🙂
Hope you liked this article. Look out for more to come for sure.
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