Monday, July 17, 2017

CULTURE SHOCK LESSONS #103: Moving to Mexico--No Toilet Paper in the Toilet?

And What Do You Mean There's No Water?

A Common Sign on the Door of Bathroom Stalls in Restaurants

Please Don't Put the Toilet Paper in the Toilet!

     When we first started traveling in Mexico years ago, we had to undergo a big adjustment to toilet paper handling. How do you break a life-long habit of using the toilet paper and automatically dropping it in the toilet? It took reading many signs in restrooms of businesses like the one above, and many times of thinking, "Oops, I dropped it again. I hope the toilet flushes okay", before we had adjusted to the Mexican way of handling toilet paper.
     After travelling throughout Mexico for years, we've become very familiar with signs in restrooms of restaurants and other places of business reminding us not to put the paper in the toilet. It is customary in most parts of Mexico to put the toilet paper in the garbage can (or bin, as some call it) next to the toilet, not in the toilet. The reason is simply that the sewer systems and plumbing in Mexico clog easily and who wants to deal with an overflowing toilet?
A Garbage Can with a Plastic Bag Liner is a MUST by Each Toilet!

     When we moved into our home in Mexico, we did what every other resident here does--put a garbage can by each toilet, lined with a plastic bag. Now for the two hardest parts of this adjustment to living in Mexico. First of all, making it a habit to put the toilet paper into the garbage can is a challenge. You would not believe how difficult that was to remember at first! Secondly, wrapping up the dirty toilet paper after... well, you know, and putting it in the garbage can, too, is just yukky at first. The easy part of this new life habit was dumping the garbage can each day to prevent odor.
     I'll never forget the first time our daughter and her family came to visit us in Mexico and on their first day there I explained the "No Toilet Paper in the Toilet" custom. The look of shock and disgust on Michelle's face was a memory I will never forget. When she said, "Even with number 2?" I tried not to laugh, but probably didn't succeed and said, "Yes, just wrap it up and put it in the garbage can. Believe me, you don't want this toilet to clog and overflow."
     Now when we travel in our motorhome, we follow the same toilet paper rule. It's amazing how much easier it is to flush the sewer system in the RV. The hard part for us after living in Mexico for two years is when we go to someone's home or to a public restroom in the United States and we are looking around for the garbage can to put our toilet paper in. It just doesn't feel right to drop it into the toilet!

What do You Mean There's No Water?

No Water at the Garden Spigot?

     Shortly after moving into our casita, I was working in the garden, Bella keeping me company, and I decided to water the plants. When I turned on the garden spigot, no water came out of the hose. I was puzzled. I had used that hose to water plants before and it had worked, so what was the problem?
     When I asked my housekeeper about this, she shrugged and said, "No agua." Apparently this was not surprising to her. We soon learned that our village, as well as others in Mexico, have an interesting way of conserving water when there is a shortage. The city water department turns the water supply off! Sometimes the water is off for days at a time. Sometimes we are on "half-days" which seems to mean that the water is off during the day and on during the night. The idea of limiting the water supply is to keep people from washing their cars, watering the plants, and wetting the street with a hose, a common practice to settle the dust in front of one's home.
     I could have watered my plants using a hose fed by our home water supply, but I didn't want to waste the water stored for household use. That water is precious during a water shortage. I solved my problem of watering the plants and conserving water by installing a drip irrigation system that originated from the spigot tied directly into the city water supply. I would turn it on late in the afternoon, though no water was flowing at that time, and leave it on all night. By morning, the garden and potted plants had been slowly watered through the drip heads. The added benefit of the drip irrigation system is that it leaves no standing water for mosquitoes to lay their eggs in.
Drip Irrigation to Each Pot and Plant Conserves Water 

     This water rationing method seems to work in our village to decrease water wasting. The residents just find ways to work with it. Thank goodness our home was built with a large underground cistern to store water and three tinacos to hold water on the roof. When the city turns on the water supply, the underground cistern fills. The tinacos have a float that measures the level of water inside and when the level drops too low it flips the switch to the pump which pumps water from the cistern to fill the three tinacos. 
Roof-top Tinaco Stores Water Pumped Up, Gravity-Fed Out

     People who live in homes without an underground cistern to store water or with only one tinaco sometimes run out of water and have to call the water truck to deliver water. The truck pumps water into their rooftop tinacos. I am told it is quite expensive to purchase water from the water trucks, especially if the home or rental property uses a large quantity of water. When building or purchasing a home in Mexico, it is wise to make sure the home has an adequate water storage and supply system.

Bucket-Flush the Toilet?

     Mexico is where I learned the technique of "bucket-flushing" the toilet. What do you do when you push down the handle on the toilet and no water flows into the toilet bowl? You look for the bucket sitting beside or floating inside a large barrel filled with water. You dip the bucket into the barrel to fill it, and then dump the bucketful of water into the toilet bowl. Wow! The toilet flushes. This is the necessary technique if you are in a restaurant or home that has insufficient water storage or the city water is turned off. In most of these cases, the water valve at the base of the toilet has been turned off to conserve water so that there will be enough water running to the sink to wash hands. 
Bucket-Flushing the Toilet Can be a Culture Shock
     Thank goodness, we have not had to resort to bucket-flushing in our casita in Sayulita because we have plenty of water storage, so far. But, I do remember while living in Ashland, Oregon, during the flood of 1997, the bucket-flush technique came in handy. We were without water and electricity for three days and had to use buckets of water from the swimming pool to flush our toilets. We were glad we had learned how to bucket-flush our toilets while traveling in Mexico.

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     To read more about our adventures in Mexico, check out my other blogs and books shown on my website:


  1. Very interesting Terry. always fun to read.

    1. Thank you. This article sure generated a lot of conversation on Facebook groups like "Expats Living in Mexico". I got lots of chuckles from the comments. Thanks for reading and commenting on my article.

  2. My wife and I have lived in Mexico 11 years now - I found your writing humorous and spot on. I still crack up at some people who can't adjust to real life. They always have enough water, flush toilets, paper in the toilets etc. They freak when they visit, but we can't believe how much is wasted when we travel North of the border....

  3. Hola MexicoRuss,
    Thank you for your great comment! Jon and I feel the exact way you do about traveling north of the border. It's now more of an adjustment for us during the few summer months that we spend in Oregon. Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you share it and my books about moving to Mexico to those who might appreciate them.
    Best wishes,

  4. Terry, once again I enjoyed ready your news letter. MOM


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