Use It or ‘Loo’se It: Restrooms Abroad

Kiser 3

When discussing education abroad, there are always the go-to topics that everyone seems to hit on. The delicious food, crazy beautiful sights, host families, and courses are some of the things that I am constantly asked about in regards to my experience. However, when I think back to my program, it’s often something else that comes to mind. It’s something that I encountered every day, that I wouldn’t have been able to live without during my Education Abroad program, and that I’ll never be able to flush out of my memory. What stuck out most to me aren’t the beaches, bars, or buildings, but rather the bathrooms.

Now, I’ll stop stalling and get to the point. There are three main aspects of the bathrooms that I encountered while in Spain that stand out to me the most:

  1. Unfortunately, for most of the restrooms, using them comes at a cost. Many public restrooms have coin machines that you are forced to use before entering. On top of that, if you want to do your business inside a place of business, they’ll normally expect you to be a paying customer. I learned this the hard way one day in my program city, Valencia. My friend desperately needed to use the restroom, and a small café was the only nearby option. Unaware of the restroom etiquette, we walked out without buying anything. The owner was not happy with us, which was evident when she ran out of the building after us yelling “This is why we don’t serve students!” – in Spanish, of course.
  2. A good thing about the bathrooms I came across that differed greatly from the public restrooms in the U.S. is that the stalls were very private. The walls and doors usually came down to the floor, and there were no wide gaps between the door and the walls (you all know what I’m talking about). This simple difference made the experience just a little more comfortable and relaxing.
  3. Something very interesting that I discovered early on in my education abroad experience is that none of the flushing devices were the same. Some had buttons, others small handles like you would see in America. Some were on top of the tank, some on the side, and others wholly separate from the toilet on the wall. Some were even chains that hung from the ceiling. I could usually figure them out after a few tries, but if we’re being honest, I never quite discovered how to work the one in the restroom at the Reina Sofía Art Museum in Madrid.

Even though I’m on a roll, I don’t want to dump everything I learned on you all at once. I’ll stop here and let you discover the rest for yourself!

Photo courtesy of


Adam Kiser is a sophomore at the University of Kentucky studying Animal Science. Adam participated in the ISA Valencia program in summer 2015.