When I travel, I take notice of unusual things. Sort of everyday infrastructure things most people either don’t notice or don’t think worthy of mentioning.
For example, in the US, light switches are off when they’re in the Australian “on” light-switch position, and vice versa. Also, in the US, curbs are a little higher than in Australia.
With that in mind, here are a few things about Israel that you’re probably not going to hear anywhere else. It’s the little, commonplace things that give every country and area its own distinct “flavour”, but which also go unnoticed.
Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of as many things as I’d hoped – such as toilet-door locks and common brands of service station – because I ran out of room on the SD card and deleting the pictures by accident along with the ones I’d already saved!
Let’s start with the most important – but also most unspeakable – aspect of day-to-day life…
Toilets in Israel are European-style (as opposed to American-style or Asian-style). This means that they’re sit-toilets with a whole-circle seat and a low water-line.
Because Israel is a moderately water-conscious country, almost all most toilets (at least, all of the ones I went to) have dual-flush systems. They appear in two main configurations:
Two buttons on the top. Note that they’re not in the centre like Australian two-button systems. But this is how they looked, on the side. This is the more common style.
Two front pull-tabs. This is a little less common, no doubt because at least 75% of the ones I saw had lost the white half-flush tab.
Toilet cells are fully enclosed to the floor on both sides (although some are open for about a foot at the top), and doors are rarely more than an inch or two from the floor. Goodness, that must make it hard for Americans.
Anyway, there are three main sorts of lock. The most common is a large black plastic tab sbout 15cm long and 5cm wide, rounded, which flips over across to the doorframe – tucking into a notch for inward-opening doors, or just sitting there for outward-opening ones. The second-most common is a tiny little metal circle, about 2cm wide, with a ridge for grip, which turns and operates a mechanism inside the door. Finally, the only one for which I have a picture to show, is a plain, old-fashioned bolt.
Public toilets are generally pretty good quality. Quite a few had damp floors in the stalls, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was because it was raining most of the time we were there. Aside from that, they were pretty clean, and had all the necessary parts. A few in more remote places seemed a bit ramshackle, but only once did we have a no-toilet-paper problem. Privately-owned toilets (mostly on Catholic-owned sites) have a fee of two shekels; we only encountered two or three of these, though (and didn’t go in).
In short, public toilets in Israel are better than public toilets in Australia. I went to the toilet in a town called Buninyong (you can tell it’s rural Australian) the other weekend which didn’t even have toilet seats!
Outside the toilet stall, the only other thing to note is the taps, which for the most part prefer to come straight out from the wall and hover about a foot above the rim of the sink. They’re mostly operated by a single knob and emit freezing cold water (I’m sure it’s warmer in summer). The hotels preferred to have those awful swivel-temperature-control taps. And I encountered one or two sensor-taps in places like the Israel Museum and the airport.
Another thing which should be mentioned about sinks is that many public sinks in Israel come equipped with a large two-handled cup chained to the tap. After spending the whole trip wondering about it, I Googled it after my return and discovered that the cups are part of a mivkeh-avoiding purification ritual.
It’s not really related to toileting, but I lack enough pictures to post on the matter, so I’ll talk about service stations (petrol stations? gas stations?) here, although I only went into one and didn’t go to the toilet there.
Basically, there are three major chains of service station in Israel, each with a seemingly inseparable café chain attached. The first, which seems to be most common around the coastal plains area, is called Sogol (the café is So Good), which is white-based with a large red flower. The second, which was more common around Galilee and the Golan in particular, was red-based, and I can’t recall the name of it.
The third, which I saw more of down south, was called Petz (or some other vowel), and was yellow-based, with an appropriately-named Yellow café chain attached.
I think I’ll just about leave this post here, since there’s not really much else to say on the toileting front. I’ll move on to less awkward matters on the next post, but before then, feel free to check out my observations in toileting in the USA.
I know some nationalities seem to think “toilet” is a rude word, but perhaps many don’t realise just how toilets (and the accoutrements surrounding them) change from country to country.
In England, many toilets still flush with a chain, while in German and Europe, some come with a “shelf” upon which you may inspect your leavings. In America, toilets have seats split at the front and are filled to within a few inches of the top with water, while in Hong Kong (Airport), they flush by means of a foot-lever. In rural Australia, the toilet might not flush at all, but simply drop leavings and paper down a long, long hole to decompose. (The more modern ones include special chemicals to reduce smell and quicken the decomposition process).
And that’s just the sit-toilets. The world is peppered with squat-toilets, from France and Italy to Singapore and Korea. Some toilets in India have extra-wide seats with foot-grips to allow squat-toilet-users to do so on sit-toilets. In Singapore, as with many countries with high Muslim populations, toilets include a small tap or shower-head on a bendy pipe to allow for washing.
And it occurs to me as I type these last two paragraphs that I may have an unhealthy obsession with toilets.