Advisor's Angle: Cultural Differences in Bathrooms & Hygiene

Advisor's Angle


By Janel Cook, NOD Student & Host Family Advisor


Not all bathrooms are built or used in the same ways. In some countries, the bathroom is a wet room. This means that when one showers, the entire room gets wet, which isn’t a problem since there is a drain in the floor. No shower curtains needed! In other instances, the shower stall is in a separate room from the toilet and sink, or there is only a bathtub with no option for showering.

In light of these differences, your student might need to be shown how to use the shower in a U.S.A.-style bathroom, including where the shower curtain should be placed-- otherwise your bathroom floors will be continually wet!

Sometimes, due to the plumbing in other countries, toilet paper is not flushed down the toilet. Instead, it is thrown in a trash bin. If you notice the bathroom trash bin filling up with toilet paper, reassure the student that flushing toilet paper down the toilet is acceptable and preferred in your home. This also might be a good transition into a conversation about what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet. This will be highly beneficial so that non-flushable items are disposed of properly.

Be sure to talk with your student about where to hang wet towels and wash cloths after use and how often they are used before being laundered. Be clear about where the toilet seat should be placed (up or down?) after use and whether or not the bathroom door should be completely closed when someone is inside. Keep in mind that all families have different bathroom etiquette, and clear communication about it will help everyone have a smooth transition.

Body odor is something that we all try to mask in the United States by showering daily and using deodorant and colognes. This is not the case in other cultures. Some may consider body odor a “natural” smell or literally have fewer sweat glands than Americans and therefore do not produce as much sweat. This may mean that your student bathes a few times per week and does not use deodorant.

It is acceptable to speak to your student about typical bathing practices in the U.S.A. thereby encouraging the student to do the same. Your student might have to be reassured that it is okay (or encouraged) to bathe more than once per day if s/he is particularly active in sports or activities. It may be beneficial to accompany your student to the store to help pick out deodorant, cologne, or perfume, as the choices may be overwhelming and confusing for the student.

Dental hygiene is an involved process in the U.S.A. including regular flossing, brushing, and mouth wash. Dental corrections are also quite common as well as regular dental office visits. It may be that your student is not familiar with these practices and therefore has not followed a regular “dental regimen.” It is appropriate to speak with your student about dental hygiene if you wish,they will likely notice the amount of time spent on it anyway!

How often do you wash your bed sheets? Do you wear your jeans more than once before laundering them? It is likely that your student is used to a different system of laundering clothes, bed sheets, and towels, etc. It is possible that dirty laundry is perceived as embarrassing for the student, or perhaps the student doesn’t know how to do laundry. Also, the student may not know where to place dirty laundry, so be sure to point out where it should be kept.

Clear communication and planning about these things will save everyone from embarrassment and confusion long term.