But it’s once the poo gets from the questionable bathroom to the sewer that the real problems begin. Mexico City’s pipes are not built to handle the waste of 20 million people. They leak and burst, and the excrement finds its way to “water systems that eventually dry out and send particles into the air, then back to the city as brown rain, settling on food being sold on the street.” During the rainy season, houses can get flooded with waste. This all results in Mexico City being #1 in the world for gastrointestinal infections, with 90 percent of adult residents infected by a fecal bacteria that can cause horrible symptoms, which lead them right back to the bathroom.
In Dubai you can pee in the sky
Dubai is known as the city that has the most world records, so of course they have to have the highest bathroom, located on the 154th floor of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. (The Burj actually has 163 floors, so if you are on the top nine and have to go, head for the elevator.)
The bathroom has seen viral fame more than once. National Geographic shared a video from the bathroom in 2017 that got 4 million views in 24 hours. In it you can see the toilet, bidet, and floor-to-ceiling windows with an amazing (if terrifying) view of the city. Obviously, no one would be on your level while you peed, but telescopes might still be a worry. People were talking about the bathroom again when Will Smith shared a picture of himself on the toilet (pants up) on Instagram in 2018, getting almost 3 million likes.
But there is something else unexpected about the world’s tallest toilet. Dubai may be fancy above ground, but below ground it lacks the sewage infrastructure to deal with a building like the Burj. According to NPR, this means that when you poo half a mile in the air, it goes through the pipes and out the bottom into the back of a waiting truck. The vehicle then goes to a wastewater treatment plant where it waits in a line of other trucks that can be 24 hours long.
Japan’s bathrooms are a high-tech wonderland
The Japanese are famous for being ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology, and it’s no different in the bathroom.
Their technologically advanced toilets have been around a long time, and they can be utterly baffling when you first encounter one. In 1997, the Washington Post reported on a young American diplomat who went to a dinner party at a Japanese home and had to pee. He was presented with such an array of confusing buttons that, even though he understood Japanese, he just started pushing. This resulted in a noise that replicates flushing, the butt dryer function, and the bidet all going off. It got water all over the bathroom. He was mortified. That was more than 20 years ago, so you can imagine how advanced their toilets are now. They can resist germs, warm your butt, analyze your urine, open the lid for you, and more. They also cost thousands.
Speaking of that flushing noise, Japanese people (especially women) feel it’s rude to let anyone hear the noises they make in the bathroom. This used to mean repeated flushing at noisy moments, until the invention of the now-ubiquitous “Sound Princess” that makes the noise for you, saving your blushes. CNET says some women still carry a personal version in their purse in case they run into a toilet that doesn’t have one. They have made a difference in water consumption, saving about 4 gallons of water every time someone goes to the bathroom in public.
Antarctica has some very primitive facilities
Going to the bathroom in Antarctica varies wildly depending where you are. For example, the main U.S. base, McMurdo Station, is the biggest settlement on the continent, and according to one polar scientist, it has heated buildings with regular flush toilets and a wastewater treatment plant to deal with the excrement. It’s not that different than going to the bathroom in America.
But some people don’t spend all of their time in the nice warm town. Scientists and others can find themselves out in the field for extended periods, away from the comforts of home. This means, when they are lucky, using outhouses. Some are just toilet seats over holes in the ice or a fuel drum. Another scientist encountered rules where you had to pee in one toilet and poo in another, where you then pushed a button and watched for two minutes as your poo was sealed in a plastic bag.
But this all assumed you can actually get to the outhouses. Sometimes, the snow is blowing so badly that making the short journey is impossible. Or it’s the middle of the night and you’d have to put on a million layers of clothes just to go pee. Or maybe you’re in a place not lucky enough to have an outhouse. In that case, people use the special plastic water bottle they have ready and labeled just for that purpose. The giant “P” on the bottle reminds them not to drink out of it in the morning.
South Korea has a complex relationship with bathrooms
If you’re really into toilets, you need to make a pilgrimage to South Korea, specifically, the Toilet Culture Park, opened in 2012. According to the Telegraph, the world’s first toilet theme park was built around the toilet-shaped house of Sim Jae-duck, the late founder and first president of the World Toilet Association. Sim became famous when he provided the bathrooms during the World Cup in 2002. His association’s mission was “spreading the benefits of hygienic toilets around the world.”
But if you actually have to use a bathroom in South Korea, you might be in for a shock, at least if you use the men’s. Public bathrooms in the country are kept immaculate by “ajoomas,” older women janitors who take their jobs very seriously. They are constantly cleaning, even if a dude is using the bathroom at the time. Guys just have to get used to old ladies hearing or seeing their business.
Women, on the other hand, have a serious problem with guys trying to see their business. In a country with some of the fastest internet and most advanced technology in the world, certain men have decided to use it to spy on women’s bathrooms. They install cameras and wait for a lady to have a seat, then apparently watch and enjoy it. NPR says the cops identified 26,000 victims of this kind of invasion of privacy in four years, but campaigners say the actual numbers are much higher. It’s even led to large-scale protests.
The Scottish don’t take hospitality to new levels in the bathroom
If you visit Scotland, before you go to use the cludgie (toilet) a local might warn you of their strange national rule: If you’re going to the bathroom and someone knocks on the door needing to use it, you are legally required to let them in. Amazingly, there is a decent chance the person telling you this actually believes it’s true. In 2008, the Telegraph polled U.K. people about the most ridiculous British laws. “In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter,” landed the #5 spot. So people do believe it enough for a national newspaper to accept it’s true and on the books.
Fortunately for everyone in Scotland who just wants to pee in peace, there is absolutely no law about this. It’s not even an old rule that is no longer enforced. The whole thing is an urban myth. If someone knocks when you are busy voiding your bowels, you can tell them to wait like you would anywhere else.
In 2012, the U.K. Law Commission went so far as to search the archives for some of the weird laws people thought were real, including this one. The BBC reported that the commission could not “find evidence that it was on the statute book” and the lawyers thought the urban myth might have gone back to a local custom or was an exaggerated means of showing the Scottish people’s “strong sense of hospitality.”