Kurt’s Kyrgyz Culture Lesson #1

21 09 2010

I’ve decided to introduce various facets of my life in Kyrgyzstan through a series of vignettes and informational lessons.  They will be accompanied by Russian vocabulary lessons and anecdotes from my life here.

Lesson One: Toilets (туалеты)

Kyrgyzstan, or at least Bishkek, has a pleasant ratio of sitties to squatties.  If you’re not sure what I mean, you need to leave North America more!  A sitty, as you may expect, is a Western-style sit-down toilet.  A squatty, on the other hand, requires its users to, well, squat.  Squatty potties are perhaps one of the more daunting aspects of traveling outside the “developed” world, but I promise, eventually you just get used to them.  And they’re really not that bad!  I won’t go into all of the usage details, but you can find detailed instructions on how to properly use a squatty potty by clicking here.

Western style toilets are still a relatively new phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan (and in much of the rest of the developing world), and you will occasionally find one with footprints where your butt would go.  Just as we Westerners seem to be averse to utilizing unfamiliar toilet technology, so too can our technology seem strange and unwelcoming to those who are not used to it.

Potty diversity aside, one thing that is important in Kyrgyzstan (even in the nicest hotel in Bishkek) is that you don’t throw anything at all into the toilet.  You practitioners of the Leave No Trace ethic will be familiar with the mantra, “If it didn’t come out of your body, it doesn’t go in the potty.”  That is certainly true here, as much of the plumbing dates to Soviet times and can’t handle anything other than organic debris (see how euphemistic I can be!).  In each toilet, there is usually a small trash can where you dispose of anything (even toilet paper!) that can’t go down the toilet.

And that brings us to toilet paper.  In North America (and increasingly in Europe), we are bombarded with advertisements trumpeting the softest most comfortable toilet paper around.  This luxury has definitely not made it to this part of the world, as most of the toilet paper I’ve encountered thus far has been slightly on the softer side of sand paper.  While effective, it’s not terribly absorbent, which means boys must be diligent about lifting the seat!  And while it’s not as soft and squishy as a Charmin bear, it’s not terribly uncomfortable either.  I’ve been here two and a half weeks now and can successfully report that I don’t have a chapped bum.

Hope this was, ahem, enlightening.  Please let me know in the comments what other types of topics you’d be interested in hearing about (food, drink, etc.) in this type of entry.

Thanks!  Спасибо!

Vocabulary

Toilet: туалет (too-ah-LET)

Toilet paper: туалетная бумага (too-ah-LET-nah-yah boo-MAH-gah)

To flush the toilet: спускать воду в туалете (spoo-SKAT vah-DOO ftoo-ah-LET-yay)

Trash can: мусорное ведро (MOO-sur-nah-yay ved-ROH)

To pee: писать (PEE-sot)

To squat: сидеть на корточках (see-DYET nah KOR-tatch-kach) (the ch- is like the final sound in the Scottish “loch”)

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10 responses

21 09 2010
sam

thanks, kurt! this entry is the shit.

21 09 2010
kurtinkstan

Well, I really just wrote it for shits and giggles.

21 09 2010
Chris K.

Now THAT’S a Fulbright paying off! Thanks for the info! As far as suggestions, food is always a good one for me — are their meal times different, restaurants, eating etiquette, etc.

21 09 2010
kurtinkstan

I’m definitely going to do at least one big food entry. But I want to wait until I have some pictures to go along with it…and I keep forgetting to take my picture to dinner with me. So that one’s definitely coming down the line!

22 09 2010
Lynne

It’s funny that you wrote this when you did! I just found out today or yesterday (the days are all blending together…) that toilet paper does not go in the toilet in Mexico or the Middle East, either! Very interesting…

22 09 2010
kurtinkstan

Yeah, it’s true in a lot of developing nations. Fortunately most of the toilets here in Bishkek — even the squatties — have toilet paper. Even if it’s not the softest.

23 09 2010
Nathan Benedict

Yeah, I did the whole tp in the trashcan thing throughout central America. A bit weird at first, but you get used to it. Squat toilets are actually much better for you. If you can keep your balance, doing the squat position on a western style toilet probably isn’t a bad idea. Japan is the ultimate place for toilet variety–everything from squats to super high tech toilets with 50 buttons that do things you can’t even imagine.

Awesome blog Kurt.

23 09 2010
kurtinkstan

I’m not opposed to people squatting on a western toilet. As long as they put the seat up first. I don’t want to put my butt on visible footprints.

And thanks!

25 09 2010
Billy

Nathan: People in Russia agree. There aren’t many toilet seats in Russia because so many people stand on top the toilet and squat down to take a shit.

9 10 2010
kurtinkstan

Yeah…it’s entirely too common around here. Although I can’t say that I don’t understand the idea.

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