Coming Clean on Egyptian Toilets: Shatafa What??

Restroom signs


Here at Whynotegypt, we love to answer your questions. Big, small, or potentially embarrassing – you ask and we will answer. Since one of the most perplexing issues foreigners face in Egypt isn’t always the easiest to ask about …we figured we’d just broach the topic first! So here it is – everything you need to know about Egyptian toilets!

Where’s the TP?!!

Empty rolls via pixabayEmpty rolls AGAIN?!! Image via pixabay

The first thing we foreigners tend to notice (and by notice, I mean complain about) is the toilet paper – or the lack thereof. “How come the roll is always empty?! Isn’t paper, like, a necessity?!!” Well here’s the thing. In Egypt, not so much…*

*Cue the chorus of grossed-out foreigners: “You mean people don’t … Eww!!!”

But let me clue you in on a little secret. Egyptians think we foreigners are the gross ones. While we stick (sometimes, quite literally) to toilet paper, Egyptians have their beloved shatafa. 

شطاف Shatafa … What???

What exactly is a shatafa? So glad you asked! Have you ever noticed that tiny little nozzle on the inside of the toilet bowl? That’s the shatafa (also known outside Egypt as a bidet, bidet spray, shower toilet, bum washer, bum spray… you get the picture!!!) Well, at least that’s part of it. The nozzle is connected to and controlled by the knob located either on the wall just to the left of the toilet bowl, or on the base of the bowl itself. With just a turn of that knob, a gentle stream of water emits from the nozzle, to cleanse and to freshen where the sun don’t shine!

Toilet with a shatafaToilet with a shatafa — the kind all Egyptians dream of when travelling abroad.

Actually, this is only one version of the shatafa. There’s an older, more cumbersome version that basically looks (and functions) like the hose attachment on a kitchen sink. (Just leave this one alone; it takes a level of skill and maneuvering for this kind of toilet spray that most first-timers can’t handle!)

Egyptians love the shatafa so much that many even own and travel with a portable, squirt-bottle version (aptly called a Fresh Buzz) when they go abroad, because they just don’t feel … fresh … enough without it.

I know what many of you — especially Americans — are probably thinking, because I once thought the same thing. Water … from there? … That can’t be sanitary!! But actually, not only is a post-business rinse more hygienic, it’s better for the environment, too!

Always make sure to throw all forms of paper products into the trash rather than the toilet; generally speaking, the plumbing in Egypt can’t handle the paper.

But I digress. Let us return to the issue of the missing toilet paper. For those uninitiated to the shatafa, of course the missing toilet paper can be something of a catastrophe. But when paper is only the, uh, secondary line of defense, it’s not quite the same problem.

B.Y.O.T(issues!)

Still, the shatafa won’t be for everyone. And shatafa or not, either way it’s always a smart idea to be prepared and carry your own pack of tissues on long days of sight-seeing, just in case!

Hand sanitizer and/or wet wipes can come in handy, too, for those times when there’s no water at the sink.


And always make sure to throw all forms of paper products into the trash rather than the toilet; generally speaking, the plumbing in Egypt can’t handle the paper.

It's dirty work but someone's got to do it! Photo via PixabayIt’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it! Photo via Pixabay

What about tipping?

Another common query regarding the loo is the question of whether or not to tip the attendants mopping, cleaning, or otherwise monitoring the bathroom situation. Note that tipping the attendants isn’t necessary. (In some places – especially airports and other high-tourist areas – attendants may target tourists specifically, to suggest or even ask that they be tipped; but again, tipping is considered a kind gesture, NOT the expected norm.)

Also, ladies, when you enter bathrooms in upscale malls and restaurants, be prepared for someone to basically escort you to a freshly-cleaned toilet stall. While this may seem strange or even a bit off-putting to folks used to a more “hands-off” bathroom experience – don’t be alarmed; it’s a standard practice. It’s also common in many restrooms – the men’s as well as ladies’ rooms  – for someone to be hovering behind you at the sink with tissues for drying when you’ve finished washing. Tipping is still not necessary or commonly practiced, even in these situations. (But tipping a couple of LE definitely wouldn’t be refused, should you offer!)

Cash tips: never necessary but always appreciated. Image via PixabayCash tips: never necessary but always appreciated. Image via Pixabay

Pay-to-use-Toilets

Occasionally there are pay-to-use facilities; the fee is generally no more than 5 LE (but usually only 2 or 3 LE). These are most often encountered in rest stops along travel routes, or at tourist sites (like the pyramids) – but the payment is generally collected outside, before you enter the WC. If anyone in the bathroom itself is trying to get money from you, chances are they’re grifting!

You can always keep some loose change in your pocket for an emergency. Image via pixabayYou can always keep some loose change in your pocket for an emergency. Image via pixabay

Fen el-Hammam? (Where is the toilet?) and other useful tips…

Believe it or not, the toilet situation in most places around Egypt is generally much cleaner than one might expect! Sure there are some exceptions (and every seasoned traveler is sure to have a horror story or two…) but by and large, cleanliness of facilities shouldn’t be a concern on anyone’s pre-travel anxiety list. Lack of paper or lack of running water are much more common problems, but if you remember to throw a pack of tissues and some hand sanitizer in your day bag, you should be all set! Also important to note: if you find yourself in a situation where nature has just started calling, start your search for the W.C. early on, as unfortunately facilities aren’t always easy to come by. A useful Arabic phrase to learn for just this situation is fen el-hammam: where is the toilet?

frog sitting on a toilet via pixabay

Finally, on a somewhat related topic, should your bathroom concerns fall into the stomach-trouble category, a sort of all-purpose stomach remedy sold over-the-counter in any pharmacy is called Antinal (note that this is actually an antibiotic, but does wonders on common travel stomach ailments).

Have any other related tips or concerns? Let us know in the comments below!

***

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