The Culture of Toilets at the Sochi Olympics

Steve Rosenburg Toilet TweetThe Internet is alive with toilet humor. Literally. This week, BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg tweeted a photo of a tandem toilet — the pair located in the men’s room of a biathalon center in Sochi — and news organizations have been running the toilet talk since.

The New York Daily News and ABC both ran an AP story about the tweet on Wednesday, stating that the men’s room is “flush with toilets” and commenting on the nature of Sochi security. The second stall is reportedly for a security officer. Additionally, Kathy Lally at the Washington Post wrote an original, short analysis of her own not long after the original post aired Monday. She said that the Russians have a toilet problem: “too many in one stall.” And she commented that Russians retweeted the photo as an example of corruption and poor Olympic stadium construction, a project she said cost $52 billion. What pundits and Internet commenters said about the tandem toilets comes with a sense of insincerity.

In the U.S. and in other countries, people don’t expect to find privacy as a premium feature in the bathroom, and because of that, the twin toilets are arguably quite funny. Beyond the face of it, though, a pair of toilets in one Russian stall is not completely uncalled for. R-Sport Editor Vasily Konov spoke about the viral photo on his own Twitter account. “Why are the BBC folks scaring us?” he said. “This is what the gents look like at football stadiums in Russia.” Other Twitter users also posted similar photos of paired toilets in a courthouse and cafe in Russia. It appears that, although this type of stall is not found everywhere, it is not impossible to locate.

More than just a joke, the photo and its subsequent analysis mark the demand for learning about other cultures. U.S. citizens would likely be up in arms if they found a tandem toilet in their neighborhood cafes, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t expect to see something different when crossing the border into another country. Indeed, NationMaster lists a number of different toilets and expected ways to wash up in the restroom. Combine the number of countries in the world with a countless list of cultural expectations and anyone is bound to find something unique if he or she visits a new place. It can be great to have a laugh at something beyond the norm, but any extra-normal event can also lead to a bit of learning in the process.

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