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Bathrooms in the Middle East

The bathroom is always an interesting cultural experience.

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I entered the shower room of the Gar Hotel in Duhok, Iraq with full confidence — I have been traveling for a long time and have mastered many different showering systems. I was not expecting to be baffled as I closed myself into the stone tiled shower room:

I looked for the shower — I did not find one.

I looked high, I looked low, but there was no shower feed in this shower room. The only thing in the room, besides the completely tiled walls and a spiderweb encrusted mini-widow, was a drain in the center of a floor, an old stone slab stool, and a nozzle a foot and a half off of the ground.

“Ah, ha,” I thought to myself, “I need a bucket for this shower.”

This is not out of the ordinary. In many countries that boast bathhouses — like Japan and Turkey — you wash yourself by sitting naked on a stool and scoping buckets of water over your head.

No problem.

Arab bathroom in Iraq

But where was the bucket? There was none.

Do Iraqis really travel with their own bath buckets in tow?

Probably not.

The only logical conclusion that I could draw was that Arabs were three feet tall at the time these bathrooms were designed or this shower was ill equipped for use.

Even though a thorough university education in physical anthropology has taught me that the average human stature has gotten taller through the years, I still placed my bet on the latter hypothesis.

Not wanting to streak through the early morning hotel with only a flannel shirt wrapped around my waist in order to wake up the sleepy-eyed hotel attendant to request a bucket, I figured that I would improvise.

Crouching down on my lowest hunches — curling up into a human Cheerio — I somehow managed to stuff my body beneath the flowing faucet of a bathroom better suited for munchkins.

Standard squat toilet in Iraq — you do your duty and then wash off with the hose

In Old China, the stand-up shower is looked upon with scorn, as having a constant stream of warm water rushing over you for an extended period of time depletes your natural supply of defensive Qi. In the shower rooms of many health conscious East Asian homes, you will find a stool and a bucket, for it is thought to be better to wash your body with bucket fulls of water rather than torrents of shower spray.

Bathrooms: always room for cultural misinterpretation

I remember walking into this bathroom in Morocco:

These Western toilets were used as squatters by people not accustom to sitting while . . .

In point, different styles of toilets and bathrooms can lead to confusion. Bathroom stratagems are some of the most ingrained and thickly constructed of socialized practices. Put an Arab on a Western toilet and you get a mess, put me in an Arab shower and I will contort my body up under the faucet like some sort of odd circus geek.

Perhaps the great litmus test of world travel can be found in the bathroom. The man who can use an un-partitioned Chinese toilet within an arm’s reach of a Chinese guy who is unshamfully reading the paper and talking on a cellphone while taking a crap is a traveler. The woman who can use an overflowing Indian squatter without covering her pant legs with splashes and her face with grimaces is on her way to becoming a seasoned road dog.

Vagabond Journey.com on toilets and bathrooms around the world
The toilet: always room for cultural misinterpretation
Electric Shower Dangers
The Dirtiest Toilets in Egypt

Arab Bathrooms in Iraq

Filed under: Culture and Society, Iraq, Middle East

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

10 comments… add one

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  • caroline parker September 17, 2010, 2:18 am

    well it looks like a outhouse toilet,and is clean.but the other one need 2 be cleand

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 17, 2010, 11:25 am

      I agree haha.

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  • krishna October 11, 2010, 6:42 am

    no cleair picture

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 11, 2010, 12:46 pm

      I don’t understand what you are talking about.

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  • Amneh December 28, 2010, 2:20 am

    Lol! The first bathroom is actually not for showering, its for wudu, which is the Islamic ritual of washing the face, hands, and feet before prayer. That’s why there is a place to sit and the faucets are so low.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 29, 2010, 2:52 pm

      No, I do not believe that you are correct.

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      • Amneh December 30, 2010, 3:28 am

        dude, I live in Kuwait, which borders Iraq. This is how wudu bathrooms look like in the Arab world.

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        • Amneh December 30, 2010, 3:30 am Link Reply
        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 30, 2010, 1:50 pm

          Dude, why would a small hotel have like three of them and no other means of showering or bathing?

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        • IslamSetsMeFree September 14, 2011, 1:03 am

          Actually it is a bathroom I’m Kurdish from DUHOK and sister Amneh the link you provide of the picture is not the same as this. This is a picture of the bathroom that has a show whereas the picture you provide is that for wudu without shower.

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