BYOTP in Chile

I suspect that anyone who has done any amount of traveling outside their comfort zone is familiar with the acronym “BYOTP.” For those who are not, let me spell it out for you, because if you’re a woman in Chile, this is going to become pretty important: Bring Your Own Toilet Paper.

Confort toilet paperOf course this is an odd—less than delicate, shall we say—topic, but let’s face it, there are things that a traveler just needs to be forewarned about, and the whole idea behind Cachando Chile is to let you in on the things that no one else ever bothers to mention!

And since Eileen kicked it off today with her piece on “The Case of the Hot TP,” I figured it’s time to pass on a bit of advice for newbies that I’ve been planning to haul out at the right time… and it seems there’s no time like the present.

Here’s the news you don’t want to hear: many Chilean restrooms do not come stocked with toilet paper, which, by the way, is generically referred to as “Confort,” (Spanish for comfort). It’s the most popular brand name, so it’s used for all “papel higiénico,” much like we say Kleenex instead of tissues in the US.

I once commented on how strange I thought it was that all the restrooms I’ve ever seen do in fact have a TP holder, but no roll. My friend said—as if it was the most obvious thing in the world—that it’s because people steal the rolls. “Really???” And she “Reallyed??” me right back because she could not believe that I had never taken a roll of paper from a public place… and I SWEAR the thought had never, ever crossed my mind!

But she may be right… so the paper is unavailable because either someone just before you now has it in her bag, or those in charge got tired of restocking all the time.

Elite tissue- pañuelos desechables- typical in ChileSo… first rule: be prepared. And no, that does not mean you have to carry a roll around (although there seems to be plenty of that to go around). Little packs of tissues (not called Kleenex, but pañuelos desechables, are available in just about every store, kiosk, and street vendor around. Heck, I bet even Eileen’s contraband TP dealer has his stock on hand if you’re jonesing for tissues!

It’s also still fairly common to have women restroom attendants in some places. You may have to pay a fixed price to use the facilities ($100 pesos or so) and she will hand you a big pile of neatly folded paper—often dyed some garish green or blue to hide the fact that this is about as rough as paper can get and sometimes even has little wood chips in it… (those pañuelos desechables are beginning to look pretty attractive now, aren’t they?)

Giant TP dispensers in ChileA more modern and increasingly common variation is the giant roll on the wall outside the stall, usually next to the paper towels… Obviously the trick is remembering to grab your paper before you lock yourself into your stall—or at least checking the paper roll before you close the door—but don’t worry, it becomes a habit quickly enough.

You laugh now, but these warnings and suggestions, when not heeded, can make for some very uncomfortable “what do I do now” moments!

But wait! That’s not all!

There’s more TP & WC wisdom to be learned here!

As long as we’re going down this odd-but-necessary road, there are a couple other little tidbits to share about bathrooms—like what to call them, so let’s have a vocabulary lesson!

You may ask to use the baño (bah-nyo) at someone’s home, although many people seem to prefer the euphemistic request to “wash their hands.”

The word Baño is also acceptable in a public place (¿Donde está el baño?), although this too, is often lightened up by calling it the Servicios, (pronounced sair-VEE-see-ohs), WC (vay-SAY), Water (WAH-ter), or even Toilette. And, as long as you’re in Chile, you can forget about words like “Inodoro” or “Excusado” that your Spanish teacher or guidebook told you about; you won’t hear them here, although Taza (TAH-sa) might come up.

And to finally bring this essential vocabulary lesson to a close, when you’re done, be sure to “tirar la cadena” (tee-RAHR la kah-DAY-na) literally “pull the chain”… which has nothing at all to do with yanking your chain—and I assure you I am not—although I doubt you’ll find a “Water” with a real chain anymore, although quite a few have a button-style flusher either on type or one the side of the tank.

do not throw paper in the toiletOK- just a quick hop back to the TP thing again… Don’t be surprised to find a sign in the stall asking you NOT to throw paper—and that includes toilet paper—into the toilet. Seriously. Use the little waste basket (always provided) for that purpose. Gross, you say? Yeah, but think how much worse it is when the system gets all clogged up because whatever it is that deals with these things isn’t up to the job! This is particularly true in rural areas and even in older buildings in downtown Santiago. I strongly urge you to heed this advice. You really don’t want to have to outrun the overflow.

As I was wrapping this up, I was curious whether anyone had written about restrooms in Chile before, and came across this odd little site: You guessed it, you can rate your experience for just about any restroom in the world. Chile? Only 1 rating so far, and that’s for a one you surely don’t want to visit in Torres del Paine.

I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve left out, and I’m looking forward to your comments, but what say we don’t get overly gross about this, ok?


14 responses to “BYOTP in Chile

  1. Having been on the road for over three years and having had my share of Confort-less moments, I now grab paper wherever and whenever it occurs to me. Best case, I have a tissue or two in my back pocket. If I’m desperate, I’ll nick a napkin or two (and no, I will not use the faux-napkin wax paper). In the worst of moments, I will even carry around a used napkin from the dinner table. The way I figure, having to maneuver around a little spaghetti sauce (on the napkin, that is) is better than maneuvering with a bare hand. (I hope this does not qualify as overly gross. If it does, feel free to delete.)

    Wood chips are awful (the former Soviet Union loved the stuff, though). I don’t like the community rolls either. (Though I do love your photo with the instruction arrow). Invariably, whenever I’m rushed, I end up at a community roll — behind the guy who’s convinced he needs a quarter-mile of paper for his business.

  2. Well you guys must be the absolute experts on this subject by now! And now that I think about it, my daughter always used to call me the “napkin lady” because I would save all the extra napkins “just in case!” Of course, that was back in US and before my life of TP-rationing began and I was more concerned about preventing & repairing food slobber than… well, you know…

  3. When traveling, I compulsively take a napkin from restaurants just in case.

    Embarrassingly, a waitress in Thailand saw me ripping my table napkin (rationing) and brought me over a stack of napkins.

    Santiago, though, really cemented my desire to take pocket Kleenex with me at all times. If only for a sneeze attack.

  4. Ah! So you’re a “napkin lady” too!
    Although that doesn’t work so well in Chile, where the so-called napkins are better for scraping than absorbing! (There’s a a whole post on that coming soon!)

  5. Haha. I forgot–Chilean napkins are too tiny and don’t absorb anything. That was a huge pet peeve. Good thing I brought my Elite everywhere.

  6. Yes, tiny and slick! A cultural phenomenon I tell ya!

  7. I have never liked euphamisms for the bathroom (powder room, little girl’s room–gah).

    After girls’ camp and Ecuador, I am proud to say I am not squeamish about bathrooms–I can go anywhere–but tp is a necessity.

    Having to pay to pee and get that lousy ration of TP is always bothersome. I honestly can’t imagine stealing a roll of toilet paper–weird.
    I always carry a pocket pack of kleenex, rather than collecting napkins, even in the US, you never know… which reminds me… the boy scout motto “Be prepared” so not made for men 😉

  8. I’m with you Annje all the way!

  9. Bum wipe can be bought here scented, powdered, and can even have graphics printed on it. The new toilets come with bum washers! A spray of water, flow adjustable for those sensitive bums, comes shooting up and it’s heated too! The toilet seats are also heated which is a nice touch on chilly winter mornings. Ahhh, roughing it in Japan. Excuse me, nature calls.

  10. Ah, yes… the famed Japanese bathroom experience. Famous world round. IN fact, did you see the thing on “Fake AP Style Guide” about them yesterday?
    Fake AP Stylebook When writing an article about technology trends, always include a reference to Japanese robo-toilets.

    And just for the record, Chilean TP does come in all types, colors, patterns, scents, degrees of softness, and designs!

  11. Ah, yes… the famed Japanese bathroom experience. Famous world round. IN fact, did you see the thing on “Fake AP Style Guide” about them yesterday?
    Fake AP Stylebook When writing an article about technology trends, always include a reference to Japanese robo-toilets.”

    And just for the record, Chilean TP does come in all types, colors, patterns, scents, degrees of softness, and designs!

  12. I never had a problem in Chile with TP there was always a woman outside selling Confort for a donation or they had Confort inside. Here in the USA, I found myself plenty of times without TP because they were empty and nobody has checked on them! How frustrating! In Chile if you go camping is the smart thing to come prepare with your own things…Now after reading this, I will have kleenex or TP in my purse for those times in the USA where nobody is stocking the TP. Ooztehd Nahsaseetah Cohn fourt? Zee Pour Fahvour. Grahziash.

  13. Yes, there are often ladies who take care of the restroom and dole out carefully measured sheets of TP (I wonder how many portions they get to a roll?)… but not always… so best to be prepared!!

  14. The major malls come stocked with TP and are free. Other places tho like bus stations are dicier. The worst I ever saw was in Africa where we stopped for a pit stop. In the mens room the guys just peed against the wall, but the ladies had to squat over a drain and there was no door. I hope someone had paper. That said, when we stayed in a tented camp the tent had a full baño and dinner was served by waiters in white jackets and gloves.

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