When Andy Erskine traveled to China this spring, he witnessed firsthand the root of a problem he’d been fighting 10,000 miles away.
What the Jackson parks manager saw were essentially holes in the ground. That’s what constitutes a toilet in regions that have withstood Westernization.
“It’s part of the culture,” he said. “You squat when you use the restroom.”
What’s more, their plumbing is often inadequate for toilet paper disposal. Rather than flush it, Chinese people generally throw it away in a nearby bin.
With an ever-increasing influx of Asian visitors to Jackson, these cultural differences naturally lead to messy misunderstandings. Feces defy physics; soiled tissue covers stall floors. On the worst days, custodians have to bust out the hose.
Especially at the Home Ranch public restroom, a standard tour bus stop at the entrance to town, crews have recently faced “significant and intense cleaning sessions.”
That’s from a report to the Town Council in mid-June. Yes, the restrooms were so vile that elected officials had to hear about it. In peak tourism months the town sometimes even receives cleanliness complaints.
“It’s a real chore, when you get a whole busload of people, to keep those things clean,” said Ben Abbott, janitorial manager with White Glove, the company Jackson contracts to clean its restrooms.
So how to solve this foul dilemma?
Perhaps you’ve seen the signs. They depict stick figures perched on toilet seats in a pose that looks unnatural to all but the most worldly Americans.
It’s the same strategy Grand Teton National Park used in 2015 when the hinges of vault toilet seats mysteriously began to snap by the dozen. Working with a Chinese student, the park traced the damage to squatting tourists and posted signs in its restrooms illustrating how to poop the American way.
The town is taking this approach a step further, with drawings and accompanying text in Mandarin, Japanese and Taiwanese. Besides showing how to sit on a toilet, the signs explain what to do with toilet paper. And as a final failsafe, the town installed trash cans in the stalls for those who miss the instructions.
“I think that covers all the bases,” Erskine said.