You arrive in a strange new country with a wad of bank notes and nothing much else. You’re desperate for the toilet and thankfully an airport urinal relieves your pain. After your business is finished you decide to wash your hands – it’s the civilized thing to do after all – and as you look around for a way to dry up you see a kindly Arab man holding out a paper towel. What do you do?
A/ Wipe your hands on your pants – aint nobody handing me a towel.
B/ Thank the kind Arab gentleman before you, take the towel and dry your hands before leaving.
C/ Unroll your pile of new currency – realising you only have large notes – then throw the lowest note in the man’s face, running from the room and losing 10 English pound in the process.
D/ Dry your hands, calmly shake one of your valuable notes into the man’s hand and strut from the room with a wink.
If you answered D then you are well on your way to happiness, the man is satisfied, he got his money and you are content because you managed to leave the bathroom without making a scene.
Unfortunately I answered B to this question – I said “thank you” and made my way out of the toilets. Big mistake. Soon enough the kindly Arab was blocking the doorway, arm extended in front of me. “Give money, NOW!” he snarled. Unfortunately he didn’t learn the word please. I sighed, glancing by the man I could see a badly photoshopped poster of a smiling Egyptian waving at me. The text read:
“WELCOME TO CAIRO!”
Cairo is a city most easily understood through its toilets and toilet etiquette, although personally I find paying money for somebody to hand me a leaf of paper and then shout in my face a little hard to handle in Cairo this is fine and if you don’t pay, you’re in the wrong.
Now don’t for a minute assume that paying means you’ll get a good service. Paying simply means you’ll get a service. Even if it’s the wrong one. If you want to get apples, don’t be surprised when you’re convinced to buy oranges and don’t act shocked when you end up with a ton of peaches.
Using the toilet – like eating and sleeping – is a service you have to use. Over and over and over again. Because it’s a necessity, you are forced to pay for it, and because you’re forced to pay for it the service can be as shoddy as possible.
Picture the scene. You’ve had a long, hot afternoon in the sun and for the last few days the local cuisine has been churning around in your stomach, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to come out and play. It decides the best time is during a trip to the beautiful pyramids of Giza. And what better place to, right? You’ve already paid a tenner to get in and thousands of tourists visit here every day. If the toilets aren’t silver, nay, GOLD encrusted then it’ll be a big surprise.
Obviously your stomach wont wait, so you rush to the toilets. You’re just about to bust in when a woman stops you, her hand outstretched. You know what she wants. Money. You ask “how much?” she says “anything?” Jackpot! The pyramids of Giza dohave the best toilets in the world. You can pay anything! So you obviously pay the lowest amount you can! Usually 1 Egyptian pound is the norm, but fuck it you have a half pound coin and you’re not afraid to use it.
So you place the small gold piece into the woman’s hand. You start to step quickly towards the toilets. Then she coughs loudly, stares at her hand, “more money.”
Wait a sec. What do you mean more money? You turn to the woman, “you know, usually the term ‘anything’ in this context would mean I get to choose the price” but the woman doesn’t understand English and you might as well have said “ooh, blah wah, seeeee, blaaahhhh!” She stares back at you. Looks into your eyes. “More money.”
You’re desperate now, you can feel yourself about to explode. You throw another half pound into her hand. That’s the usual price met. Easy. “More money.” Fuck you! You push by her, run into the toilets and into your own, private, luxurious cubicle.
Wrong. The toilet has a leak and you’re ankle deep in a mix of piss and dirty water. Usually you’d expect the toilet seat would be covered in urine at this point – unfortunately there is no toilet seat. Your problems have just started too – you look down at a large brown blob left by the previous 4 occupants. One person definitely had falafel last night. Shit! What was that? Something definitely just swam over your foot! Quickly you try to flush the toilet, but it doesn’t work. Argh, fuck it. You’re desperate and with a bit of squatting you wont catch many major diseases.
The pleasure of relieving yourself is soon followed by terror when you realise there’s no toilet roll. In the mayhem of trying to pay to get into the toilet you forgot that toilet roll in this country is a sacred item that you sometimes have to beg for, more often have to pay for. You cant go back to the woman to plead for toilet roll now! You’d lose face! So you do the only thing you can do, you wipe your arse with your hand. But guess what. Moments later you realise the taps don’t work and you’re forced to clean your hands in the cesspool of filth at your feet.
Now I’d love to say this is an exaggeration but it isn’t in the slightest, 90% of public toilets in Egypt are dirt filled holes, 99% hand out toilet roll sparingly. It’s come to a point where when I find a toilet with toilet roll I put the whole roll into my bag. Yes, I’m a petty thief, and sure I’ll never actually need the 6 rolls of toilet paper that I always carry around with me – but by God it’s the principle of the thing! If you’re forcing me to pay for a service, only to then give me something shoddy in return then I have to get my money (and revenge) somehow! Stealing toilet paper is the only way I can sleep at night, happy that I haven’t been totally ripped off.
Instead of closing my eyes at night and seeing a dozen toilet attendants laughing in my face, I’m laughing in their faces, waving the rolls above my head while I scream, “SEE WHAT I’VE GOT! HAHAHAHA! I WIN! I WIN!”
But really, you can never win because you’ve always got to pee and you always find yourself going back to the toilet, head bowed. You always hear the words “you pay, NOW!” And always. ALWAYS. You pay.