This post might be a bit icky. Don't read it if you're squeamish.

It's a truism in anthropology that you can tell a lot about a culture from how it deals with human waste.

People breathe, eat, age, die, use language, tell stories, have sex, make babies, form groups, use tools, get ill, make things...and make shit. These are basic facts about what humans are, and any culture - even one that tries to deny or control these things - has to find ways to deal with them.

Death may be taboo for instance, but there need to be mechanisms in place to dispose of corpses.

Slavoj Zizek has a well known monologue about the difference between British, French and German toilets. He says the French have toilets where urine and excrement disappears straight down a dark hole, as though to give the impression that they're instantly obliterated - out of sight, out of mind. The Germans though present your turds to you on a kind of shelf, for you to inspect for signs of infection. And the British, he says, have a compromise that has your waste floating in water.

I've no idea whether this is true, but if you visit Saudi, there's a better than 50% chance that the toilet in your hotel will be...different. And basic looking. Which is to say, a hole in the floor with a cistern attached. You squat over the hole, take aim and...push.

If you want toilet paper, you'll probably have to bring it yourself. Because instead, a small hose squirting warm water is provided for you to clean yourself. And you can give yourself a shallow enema - stick in the nozzle, fill up your rectum, take aim again, and push again. Repeat several times until you're shooting clear water.

I tried it last night. On the one hand, it felt a little gross. On the other...I'm definitely cleaner inside and out than a few wipes with soft paper would give. Oh, and strong leg muscles are an advantage.

As for what this tells us about the Arab attitude to taking a dump...probably a great fear of disease and concomitant devotion to cleanliness. That's not a difficult guess, because they're a very clean people in general - all the clothes I've seen are well laundered and neat.

There's none of the German need to inspect, nor the British habit of faeces that's highly visible until you chose to pull the chain - it goes into a dark water filled hole and becomes almost invisible until you flush it further away.

Plus, this is a culture that still has one foot in the desert. Not surprising, as within living memory it was both feet. How do you expel your wastes traveling in the desert? You set aside an area near your camp for both the liquid and the solid - as opposed to keeping them separate, as you would if you were using people to fertilise their own crops - squat, scrub, and cover with sand to make it disappear.

Perhaps I'm talking a load of, erm, rubbish. It's just a new experience for me, which I'm trying to fit into a larger pattern.

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