Off Topic: Overseas Oddities

Off Topic: Overseas Oddities

When you travel overseas, you expect some things to be different. Maybe the money is a little bit odd to handle. Maybe there are some customs that seem strange to you but you politely go along with it.

Then there are things that are just unfathomably weird, like American toilets.

Anyone who has traveled has encountered something out of their comfort zone. For me, it was encountering American toilets during my trip to Awesome Games Done Quick.

There is so much about them that is just wrong.

They’re low to the ground. They’re wastefully full of water.

Worst of all, many of the toilets that I used automatically flushed when you stood up. Nothing is more terrifying than Poseidon enthusiastically claiming your excrement.

What are some weird things you’ve encountered that made you realise how far from home you were?

And please, be respectful.


  • Australia is the driest continent on Earth (unless you count Antarctica where technically snow isn’t wet…) so our water saving toilets have evolved out of necessity. So whats a cultural norm here isn’t necessarily what other countries have evolved to.

    Having said that, yeah, the US toilets were weird to use at first.

    Tipping got me as well, I just couldn’t adjust my thinking to take it into account, so quite often forgot about it totally. The other thing was the Sales Tax. Not the tax itself, but that it wasn’t included in the advertised price, but was added at the till.

    That threw me for a few days. I got sick of pennies as well. Those little demons bred like rabbits. So glad we got rid of em after being in a similar economy that still uses them.

    • Sales Tax is a pain. Funny how it’s always defended by Americans whenever I see it brought up on Reddit.

      Pennies are also useless. Our family went through a Subway getting lunch once and everything must have ended in .99 because the register had a special little dispenser that would drop pennies into a little dish for your change. Dude got real upset when several of us went through without picking them up.

      • Having a sales tax isn’t so bad, and neither is listing prices ex tax. What annoyed me was the way they gave goods nice even pre-tax prices, which invariably led to weird final prices. Add on top of that an expectation to tip a certain percentage of the bill, and it was needlessly confusing.

        • The reason for all this is that the pre-tax retail price is usually set by whoever made the product, and it’s set US-wide. Different states – and in some cases, different counties in the one state – have different prices, and in some cases the tax is different depending on the item too.

          It’s not an excuse, because it still bugs the hell out of me that the sticker price isn’t the final price, but that’s the main reason why.

    • Australia is a very dry continent but most of us don’t live in the dry parts.

      Compare London with an annual average rainfall of 584mm, San Diego at around 300mm, San Francisco at around 600mm, and even Seattle the ‘rainy city’ at 950mm.

      On the other hand, the average annual rainfall in Melbourne is around 650mm, the driest part of Sydney gets 700mm (and up to 1400mm in some parts along the coast), and Perth gets around 733 millimetres.

      • Fair points. But counter to that we have more droughts than most places, with little to no avenues to pull water from other areas. Every city is self reliant. Plus we don’t manage our water very well anyway.

        I remember the massive debate when they put the desal plant in Sydney, with the premier at the time (Morris Iemma) bluntly stating he wasn’t going to mess with Sydneys future needs.

        Was pointed out that the water catchment was based around a population of a million, not 5 million, and there were no areas to build a new dam that wasn’t going to be prohibitively expensive.

        That desal plant is running at near peak capacity now, when it was meant to be working at about 25% capacity of a daily basis. I hope Sydney doesn’t have water issues for a while, its back to thr same point it was before that plant was built.

        But the point was more that as a culture we’ve felt the need to be more water aware than most countries, and our toilets reflect that. Half flushes, smaller cisterns, less residual water are all what we ended up with as a result.

        • Contrast that with good old Adelaide where they built a desal plant and promptly mothballed it. But yeah, Australia’s water management is general is terrible. We can’t even manage our largest river properly and equitably. States fighting states and politicians fighting politicians. Compare that to Europe where most major water systems run through multiple countries and they all find a way to manage it.

        • Oh and meanwhile, dual flush toilets aren’t going to mean a damn thing if our completely corrupt state and federal governments let the genuine devil that is Adani come and take as much water as they want for the next couple of generations.

      • `the difference between London and Sydney is that Sydney will get all its rainfall for a day bucketing down for 30 minutes in an afternoon, while London will space it out in a drizzle through the whole day, and stay overcast for the whole week so it never gets the chance to evaporate.

    • With tipping, the issue I had in 2017 wasn’t so much remembering to tip, but figuring out HOW to tip in each particular location. So many different methods being used.

      • I’m fairly practical. To me, rounding off the bill to the next major note is simple and effective, and I automatically defaulted to that. Was more than once though that ended up being a dollar or less, and the looks I got were pretty strong. Happily it was a place used to tourists not understanding tipping.

        Personally I hate it being automatically included on the bill. Its a tip, and a reflection of the service provided. Not an automatic fee you pay without choice.

        • That’s a good point. I think tipping should reflect service, so if you get a slow, disinterested waiter who blatantly doesn’t give a shit why should you tip them at all, let alone 20%?

          The other issue is they give you dirty looks but don’t know your financial status either. Maybe that 5% tip you left was all you had to spare.

          I also find the tipping by percentage idea ridiculous once you go outside of a certain range. It might be fine if you have a $50 meal and tip $10, but if you buy a 50c item should you tip 10c? What about if you have a $500 meal are you really expected to tip $100?

    • Conversely, the US bank notes frequently make you feel like you have more money than you actually have since you can have a fat wad of notes that adds up to like $10.

      • Yeah weird, and made moreso by them all looking the same when you’re not used to them. Same color and size meant I took care keeping them in order.

        Opposite is also true by the way. Fun fact. A stack of 100 hundred dollar notes is only about 1 cm thick. And frickin scary to be carrying around in your side pocket.

  • Having just done a three week tour of the west coast, the weirdest thing I noticed was how common paper toilet cover dispensers were.

    I can’t say that I noticed the low to the ground thing, and in terms of water use, it’s true that I didn’t see dual flush very often but the actual volume of a full flush didn’t seem unusually high.

    As far as self-flushing is concerned, I can think off the top of my head of half a dozen Australian shopping centres where that’s common so it didn’t seem that weird to me. I didn’t see any outside of the obvious public venues like Disneyland and shopping centres.

    I think the main take-away I got was what appears to be a significantly higher germ phobia than I’m used to. Pretty much everywhere had hand sanitiser dispensers prominently out the front, and this does tie in with paper seat covers and not having to touch any buttons to make the toilet flush.

    • I think self flushing toilets in public places are probably a good idea. The number of people who think it’s funny to walk away without flushing (or are just damned lazy) is too high.

      • It’s good in theory, for sure. I am, however, someone who tends to do most of my wiping after standing up and therefore I spent a lot of time waving body parts around in front of the sensors to avoid causing that exact problem.

      • I have both in my house and a third outside, it’s good for those god awful dumps after bad curry or kebab.

        • It does my head in. I remember in the early days on IRC hearing some one complaining about knocking their hair brush in the toilet. It took me a while to realise how. Then I was likeyou take a shit, then clean yourself in the same place? Do you ever get out of a hot cleansing shower amd still smell you dump from a few minutes ago? Just doesn’t seem right to me. Plus it’s in efficient, soneone is bathing amd you can’t drop one. Or do you drop one next to your mrs when she is brushing her teeth? It baffles me so much more than it should.

          • Yeah but in defence of that at least two people can use a toilet at the same time, if I’m taking a dump in the main toilet then there is still the toilet in the bathroom free.

            But I get your point, I don’t see how taking a dump while someone brushes there teeth or having a shower while smelling it is in anyway a good idea.

          • I used to have a GF with a fucked up sense of humour. She seemed to thrive on the look of horror on my mug as she’d take a shit while I’m in the shower. Or send me photos of her poop while I’m at work. Aren’t y’all happy I shared that with you?

  • Speaking of toilets, I had the undeniable “pleasure” of using a traditional Japanese toilet when I was over there. You know, the kind that’s just a trough in the ground that you squat over. It’s not fun to use when your stomach is reconfiguring itself to a different diet.

    That said, I also got to use the coolest toilet over there. It had a little sink on top of the cistern so after you flushed the new water would first pour through the tap and then drain into the cistern so you could wash your hands. We need those in Australia.

    • There are a lot of those toilets all through Asia, they are actually better for you because squatting keeps the bowel straight.

      I think the toilets with the built-in bidet are awesome though and much cleaner.

      • Screw the bowel, squatting’s a nightmare on the knees. Hated it every time I had no choice but to use one while over there, one of the most uncomfortable positions I can think of being in.

        • It’s ok if you’ve grown up with it I guess since you’ll maintain that flexibility but yeah I had the same problem with my creaky knees when I visited Thailand.

          But more of an issue was what are you supposed to do with your pants? it’s such an uncomfortable, clumsy position with your pants bunched up and there’s always the worry you’ll pee on them or they’ll drape on the floor and get someone else’s pee on them. UGH!

          • For me it’s more the pressure from calves against thighs, and the leverage of that kinda pulling the knee open I think?

  • Toilets are the big one in the US. Public toilets have huge gaps between the doors and stall walls. Enough to easily fit a hand through. They are *all* like this and I have no idea why.

    They bowls are low and huge. I don’t want to look down and see something floating past. Why do they have soooo much water in them?

    Their pipes are rubbish. Plungers actually exist and have a use outside of Looney Tunes cartoons. I have had to use them many times in various places because toilets just clog. The only time I have ever clogged an Australian toilet is when I was a kid and flushed the cardboard tube from the TP roll.

    • You couldn’t very well have a moral panic about trans people using public toilets if they offered any form of privacy…

    • It’s been a good 20 years since I was over there on holiday and while I remember vividly the bowls full of water I don’t remember anything about weird gaps in the stalls.

      • Maybe they are a recent thing? Every public toilet I used (a fair few as the US diet is pretty different to my standard fare) had huge gaps between the doors and walls. You could easily identify someone from them simply walking past your stall.

    • Their pipes are rubbish. Plungers actually exist and have a use outside of Looney Tunes cartoons. I have had to use them many times in various places because toilets just clog. The only time I have ever clogged an Australian toilet is when I was a kid and flushed the cardboard tube from the TP roll.

      This. This so much. The number of times I’ve managed to clog my toilet just dropping off the normal ablutions in the morning. Just have to sigh and pull out the plunger again.

  • I have been caught out a few times by the afternoon ‘siesta’ while travelling in Europe, particularly in Italy. Some places shut up shop for a good 2 hours from 1pm. Learnt quickly to pack a lunch!

  • One thing that confused me in the US is that they use “ground floor” (or lobby) and “first floor” interchangeably. My hotel in New York had “L” on the lift buttons for Lobby, but then the robot voice said “first floor” when the lift got to the lobby. It took me a couple of rides down from my hotel room to automatically get off the lift when it said “first floor” instead of waiting for it to go down another floor.

    I also had trouble with tipping while in the US. I probably undertipped a lot of people.

    • US toilets recreate the experience of shitting in a lake while people walk past and everyone pretends you can’t see each other


  • A recent trip to Hong Kong reminded me that smoke free taxis are a blessing. It also made me realise what a shitstorm of disorganisation most Australian public transport systems are. Oh and Melbourne airport is someone’s idea of an unfunny joke.

    • I have yet in all my travels to find a major airport more expensive and with worse amenity than Tullamarine.

        • I intentionally included the word ‘major’ before airport for a reason, since I can definitely think of some regional and third world airports with worse amenity, although none I have visited are more expensive. You are correct, however, that I have always been able to avoid using Avalon.

          • Major is such a loose definition and not a classification term used for airports I thought I’d throw it out there.

      • It still stuns me that they redid a bunch of the international terminal recently and I’m fairly sure they somehow ended up with *less* toilets than they started with.

        I have been in worse airports major than Tullamarine though.

    • Japan’s public transportation system is second to none I’ve personally seen, really crowded at peek times, but in Tokyo I was never more than a 5min walk from anywhere.

      • Yup, I spent a year there a back and god damn do they the rail network perfected. Such a great place to visit.

    • Speaking of taxis, visits to Thailand make me thankful that Aussie taxis actually have seatbelts. I can’t remember finding a working seatbelt in even one taxi while there.

      The other weird part is half the time they want to negotiate a fare rather than using the meter. No I’m not going to haggle… just turn on the damned meter and get moving.

        • Yeah they’re not great. Also rode a bike taxi which is even scarier – clinging to the back of a stranger on a motorbike wearing no helmet while they weave thru traffic. And a “ute bus” where you basically climb in the tray of a battered old hilux along with about 6-12 other people and cling on for dear life.

    • Don’t feel bad. I didn’t go for the first time until after 40. At 35 I was buying a place to live in so it took a few years to settle into that routine.

      Overseas isn’t going anywhere, it’ll still be overseas when you’re ready to go.

    • Tour australia. It might sound boring but we are a vast country. I’m amazed at the people that have been to a dozen different countries but in australia have never been out of their own state. Sure you see other cultures etc but we also have the oldest living culture here in our own backyard as they say.

    • Hey not a big deal man. You can do it just save up over time. I didn’t go for a long time either but saved up and finally did it a few times and it’s great.

  • Just got back from Japan and our toilets seem prehistoric to those starship command thrones. Heated seats in winter…yes please!

  • I haven’t really traveled so I haven’t experienced any differences. I was out at a restaurant with family the other day though and they were talking about this exact topic. One of the things bought up was eating times in Spain. Apparently it’s common not to eat dinner there until about 11 at night, and restaurants won’t even open until 9.

    • This is true in parts of Latin America too. In Spain a few years ago I noticed folks seem to just have a cup of coffee for breakfast and then something more substantial around 10 or 11am, at which time nobody will look at you sideways if you have a beer/glass of wine or two with your morning tea and then head back to work. Seems like a good system.

  • I come from overseas so I notice the Australian oddities. The one that struck me the hardest is how early most commercial locales close every day. It has improved a bit in the last decade but I remember when I just arrived how baffled I was by the Melbourne CBD becoming almost a ghost town after 6 pm. The one thing that really did my head in was pharmacies closing that early… what??? So if I get sick in the evening I have to wait until lateish next day to get some medicine?

  • I always love how in Japan they stand to the side on escalators, instead of hogging the entire width to themselves.
    It’s just odd how in Tokyo/Kanto they stick to the left, and in Osaka/Kansi they stick to the right.

    The same with getting on and off trains.
    Can’t get the same decency in Melbourne, as you get people stacking up on the platform in front of train doors before they open, only for them not to get on the train.

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