The Latin American Bathroom Orientation

The day after Joey’s first night in Bogota, we were at my house hanging out with my Irish roommate. Joey wanted to shower. I gave him a towel and showed him to the bathroom. After five or ten minutes, he came back to the room in just a towel to ask: “Hey dude, I can’t figure it out. How do you get the water hot?”

My Irish buddy and I looked at each other and broke out laughing. In showing him the bathroom, I completely forgot the Latin American Bathroom Orientation.

1) Don’t flush the shit paper.

This is the main thing gringos complain about, or just find weird, but it’s standard across the developing world. The plumbing isn’t strong enough to flush all the toilet paper you wipe poop with. That dirty paper goes in the small trash can next to the toilet.

I’ve met Latinos who throw all the shit paper in the trash. I, however, follow the advice I got from an upper-class Brazilian the first time I visited South America. I drop the first piece of paper – usually the shittiest – in the toilet. So one piece of paper gets flushed with the shit. MAX two, but that’s only on a really shitty day. The rest goes in the trash. For what goes in the trash, I fold the paper so that no shit is visible to someone looking in or emptying the trash. A tell-tale sign of lower estrato is immediately throwing the shit paper in the trash without folding it, leaving a streak of poop for all to see.

Putting shit paper in the trash has never bothered me, but it never ceases to amaze me how many gringos are repulsed by it. I know a couple gringos in Medellin – they live there – who refuse to adopt this practice. They throw all the shit paper in the toilet and flush it three or four times until it all goes down.

2) The box above the shower head.

photo credit:

In Gringolandia there are two water knobs: hot and cold. Upper class homes in Latin America have this luxury, but the vast majority don’t. Most have the box above the shower head. Most houses still have two knobs, but both spit cold water through the box. Inside this box, the water is heated. The more time the water spends in the box, the hotter it gets. Hence you have your trade off: heat vs. pressure. The more you open the water knob for more water pressure, the faster the water enters and leaves the box, the colder the water. The less you open the knob, the lower the pressure, the more time the water spends in the box, the hotter the water.

The least enjoyable showers are those where the water pressure is barely a trickle for the water temperature to be warm enough. But because it’s so little water, you body’s still cold while showering. This kind of shower was Joey’s first experience.

If there is any metal in your shower fixtures, don’t touch it while showering. You may get a shock. See Ward’s piece on his shower head for more on the shock, voltage, etc.

The box above the shower head is by far the most common, but I’ve seen other variants. I’ve stayed at a hostel that had a solar water heater. So you could only take hot showers when the sun was up. And in one of my apartments we had a proper water heater, but it had to be turned on at least an hour before showering. I had two roommates, so occasionally the hot water would run out. But the last guy to shower would just wait 10-15 minutes.

Extra Credit

Never expect public bathrooms to have shit paper. They usually don’t. Expats-on-the-go bring shit paper everywhere.


In Colombia (Bogota and Medellin anyway), contrary to what most believe about Latin America, tap water is safe to drink.



  1. Hahaha My dad has the same discussion with my mom: he puts the “shitty paper” (he has an special name for it) into the toilet, but my mom doesn’t like it because el baño se tapa. The trashcan has a cap, so you don’t see the shitty stains.

    About flushing the toilet after pissing or using it mor than once.


  2. Hahaha, you hit the nail on the head with this one. I love the line: “So one piece of paper gets flushed with the shit. MAX two, but that’s only on a really shitty day.”


  3. you forgot to mention that at any bus terminal or even at certain stadiums you pay for peeing or shitting, rates may vary. The lady that charges you at the entrance gives you the the toilet paper based on your needs. This is a pattern that is repeated in several countries in Latin America.


  4. So true. When I’m staying at a place a long time, like the new apartment in which I was renting a room in Poblado last year, I’ll test the toilet and pipes. If all my average paper use goes down in one flush without water gurgling, I know the pipes are good enough.

    I was able to enjoy 10 months of this paper down the toilet in my apartment as a result. And it’s still my preference to do it that way.

    I also fold the toilet paper if it has to go in the trash, but I didn’t realize it was a sign of the lower class to just chuck it. I thought it was just the foreigners who take the time to fold it.


  5. Haha I know you’re talking about me and Justin steady flushin. My logic is what is paper gonna do that a big ass dook isn’t? Also, I’ve assimilated to the point I don’t even have hot water or a ducha like you have pictured, I get up on cool Medellin mornings and take balls cold showers and LIKE THEM.


  6. My bad. With “About flushing the toilet after pissing or using it mor than once.” I mean that there’s sometimes the debate wether you piss and instantly flush the toilet but you waste on average 10 lts of water for little mililitres of piss VS. you piss and let it ther for posterior uses saving water but staining the ceramic of the toilet.


  7. Great entry! When I tell my relatives back home about the shit paper trashcan, they just shudder. Unfortunately, my Colombian roommate cannot be bothered with the courteous “fold before you throw” technique, so it makes for a worse experience.

    As far as potable water goes, I’ve found the tap in Bogotá to be much more sanitary than in Houston (where I’m from). Water in the latter locale is often cloudy with excessive calcium deposits. Occasionally, it can even taste like metal. Yuck.


  8. Cool peice, but I was never told this in South America. I used to notice the little R2D2 looking shit can beside the toilet and only later did I realize what it was for when someone told me.

    I have been some very rural places in the USA with bad plumbing and to me, a lot of South American plumbing is similar.

    I still refuse to put shit in a can, but to anyone reading this, just use common sense, like you would with a toilet in the USA plagued by low suction power.,..just shit, whipe , flush and repeat…you might have to flush more than once, but you’ll get it down.


  9. Same story with the toilet paper in Ghana.. But there is no water heater there.. the place is so hot, the tap water is OK for a shower


  10. ladies and gentlemen, enter Cottonelles moist wipes!!!

    Its 2012, time to make t.p, obsolete and become more sanitary

    Thes things work wonders and they are FLUSHABLE!!!! I know they dont have them in Colombia or Japan where I currently am but worthwhile stocking up next time when youre in America, get one of these guys at your costco, thely last forever,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=1366&bih=646&wrapid=tlif134159832518310&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=1494343957321426479&sa=X&ei=Cbz1T4XSCoaRigeU16ndBg&ved=0CFoQ8wIwAA

    Its such a better feel and fuck putting shit stained toiilet paper in the toilet, its not the 70s


  11. Good looking out Alex, I do that here in US too..better than some dry rough TP on your ass and especially in the summer months with heat and swamp ass. Any Cottonelle or generic brand wet wipes will work. Much fresher and cleaner.


  12. theyre affordable too, I think the world needs to catch on..VHS and CDs are a thing of the past, so is T.P.

    If youre a costco member or a branch of that kind, Kirkland Signature makes some cheaper ones..

    Memo: Dont use baby wipes, theyre not flushable lol!!!


  13. I’m on vacation in London, actually staying at a Colombian friend’s apartment, and they have the NOT-on-demand water heater here, you have to put it on a while before you bathe. Worst part is, NO SHOWER, just a tup. They have a shower attachment but the water pressure isn’t enought to use it standing up, you have to just kinda spray yourself sitting down..


  14. ha ha nice post. Most colombians don’t know that toilet paper is designed to desintegrate while wet so they keep using the trash thinking it will clog the plumbing. But is for real that it takes 2 or 3 flushes to let it go away because the vortex isn’t strong enough.
    In older houses, in Palermo or La Soledad, they still have bidets (if found out that in Argentina they really use them). So there is no shit paper but you wash your ass with warm water right after. I have never tried it.
    An advice: on public restrooms is mandatory that if your turd is so big that it deserves the critical approval of the masses, you shouldn’t flush the toilet nor leave any paper to let the world know your legacy… I wonder why it only happens on men restrooms.

    About that f… box, we had it for many years and always hated it because if someone flushed the toilet or opened other source, the pressure inmediatly drops and your semi-hot showers instantly is cold. But since masification of natural gas, more and more homes have water heaters nowadays, they are cheaper on the long run and more reliable.

    And finally, laws about tap water in Bogotá are more restrictive than those for bottled water, so in a sense, it’s safer to drink from the tap than from a bottle here. Go figure…


  15. So what happens to the paper in the trash can. Do you burn it, throw it out with the other garbage, just throw it on to the street or do you recycle it by hanging it up and beating the shit out of it.


  16. I don’t care what this big gringo or others tell you, it’s safe to flush your toilet paper. I’ve had extensive history flushing it to 100% successful results.


  17. Don’t forget that all the light switches are on the outside of the bathroom … nothing says ‘asshole’ like closing the bathroom door and arm-sweeping the wall in the dark, and then having to open the door and look around again. I wonder how many gringos took a shit in the dark because they never found the light switch!


  18. Josh, re: light switches outside the bathroom – I’ve only seen that in Colombia. Everywhere else it’s normal. So that’d be part of a “Colombian Bathroom Orientation” 🙂


  19. Twp water safe to drink?

    That depends entirely on your stomach- give it a go, but it’s not safe for everyone! (gives me awful diarrhoea).

    Also you should mention that a lot of colombians turn off the water when showering, lather up with soap and then turn the water on again to rinse. A good water saving trick, but not the most enjoyable washing experience!


  20. I doubt that is a sign of high class style bend to throw shit, that’s “huachafo” (ridiculous). The point is pulled and shit, hahaha


  21. The reason gringos don’t like it is because it’s shit. You have various but significant amounts of shit on toilet paper and it collects in a bucket in a small and usually non-ventilated room and in hot parts of Latin America it’s just worse.

    Also, there’s even more paper with women. We wipe when we pee. You knew that right?


  22. I just came back from a mission trip from Peru with my school and I did have a problem with the toilet paper “rule”. This was my second time to South America and had no problem like this when I went to Buenos Aires. And yes…as you say…I am a GRINGO and I find it disgusting!!! I am so happy I studied in Madrid!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can throw your toilet paper in the toilet there!!! Viva La Madre Patria!! graTHias.


  23. Brazilian toilets have a hose attached to the toilet, you are supposed to use that to wash and then dry with the paper, wealthier Brazilians might have a bidet as well. No need for shit in the bin people!


  24. This is why I’ll never travel to low life South American countries, get with the fuckn program scumbags. Why don’t you just shit in the fuckn woods like all the other animals, cocksucker.


  25. Where you say “toilet paper should be thrown away instead of flushed” is a standard across the developing world, that’s a lie. I’ve lived in Thailand and Cambodia and EVEN THEY flush the paper they wipe feces with. No other group of nations supports this Hispanic custom. NONE.

    This is solely a Latino problem and Latinos need to level up as humans and fix it, not demand the rest of the world adhere to their repulsive and frankly health-endangering little plumbing custom.

    You’re not apes; you’re human. Flush your used toilet paper.


  26. Hey, I grew up in Nicaragua in the 60’s and 70’s, traveled through several Latin countries and eveyone flushes their used tissues in the toilet! Apparently though it’s become a tradition in some overpopulated cities like Mexico City, Bogota or Lima but smaller cities like Managua, San Jose or Montevideo don’t have that problem. It could also be that many expats love to stay in the crapiest hotels or boarding houses that they can find to save a couple of bucks. So chill out about judging all of Latin America because I see nasty, stinky restrooms in the States all the time. That goes for dance clubs, grocery stores, fast food joints, Irish pubs, or any place that serves food! The irony of it is that’s in the so called “richest country in the Americas”!


  27. Instead of a tub, or sealed sliding doors, showers in LAM often only have a a one inch tall wall between the shower area floor and the rest of the bathroom, along with a curtain. . It is easy to overflow the shower.


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