Turkish Houses: The Toilet of Shame

Houses in every country, every community often have certain architectural quirks separate from any other culture. In Turkey, one of those is The Toilet of Shame.
Living quarters in Turkey have less space devoted to bathrooms in general. Bathtubs are rare, especially in dwellings over a decade old. We’re staying today in E’s friend’s house – he and his wife rent a two story + loft three bedroom house outside of the city center. Three bedrooms (plus loft), three balconies (plus terrace), one full bathroom.
But in their house, as in many others, there is actually a second bathroom. The door may always be closed, you may think it’s a utility closet or steps to the basement. But no, it’s there. I stayed in E’s family flat for three days last year and never knew they had a second bathroom.
Why? Because the half-bath, which is usually located near the kitchen and front entrance, almost invariably has a squat toilet. Which is, of course, not a marker of Modern Educated Turkish identity.
Guests and residents alike rarely use the half-bath; even if someone is in the kitchen, they’ll walk upstairs to use the full bath. It’s greatest function it to hold cleaning supplies.
Turkey, on the cusp of Europe, is a bit sensitive in discussions of civilization and development. There’s also a fairly large urban-rural divide in terms of markers like profession, education, and religious conservativeness (much like every other country in the world…). The urban educated seem at times both protective of their country and demeaning of their rural countrymen, nervous to be lumped together in one sum. In America there seems to be a sort of glamorized shock at rural and urban poverty. Here, E told me not to take pictures of the slums on Ankara’s hills, to not make outsiders think that all of Turkey was that disheveled and poor. It’s not denial, but a bit of fear mixed with defensiveness. After seeing their country so negatively portrayed, particularly in European Media, ever since the “Sick Man of Europe” cartoons preceding the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it’s no wonder people are a little afraid of lump generalizations, and why the urban squat toilet is relegated to the role of unmentionable Toilet of Shame.

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