Lost in translation: So many “toilets” in Kathmandu

operatively Ok, here is a funny story for you.

In the beginning of my travels to Nepal, not only my Nepali was extremely bad, but also my English was very lacking – to say the least. It was good enough to get by … most of the times.

So what happened was, when I would be walking around in Kathmandu, I would see all these little blue signs outside some residential houses on which was written “To let – 98473625” (or any other number). So the thing was, that I did not know what “to let” means in German and just assumed in my arrogant naivety that everyone was misspelling the word “toilet”.

toilet-in-solukhumbuAfter trekking in Solukhumbu I had seen a variety of spellings of the very same word and therefore assumed that even in Kathmandu apparently people were not educated enough in English to know how to properly spell it. So I wondered why there are so many toilets around certain residential areas, and what those phone numbers were for. And amazingly I came to the conclusion that those must be private toilets and that if you want to use those toilets in case of a toilet-emergency (especially since diarrhea infections are so common), you can call the owners and they will open the door for you.

I am not kidding you, this is really true. I thought this was really strange to have such a custom, but I thought it was a good hospitable thing to do for the community. And, yes, of course: I was unbelievably dumb and arrogant in that assumption. And it is even more amazing that this conviction stuck with me until my second stay in Nepal. I don’t remember exactly how I learned about it, just the feeling of total embarrassment when I found out what those sign really stood for.

I really had some wrong ideas about how Nepali community works because of that. I would contemplate questions such as:
Will high caste families allow low caste families to use their toilets?
Are those special western style toilets – and is that the reason why they advertise them like this.

So funny!

Imagine what would have happened if at some point I had actually ended up calling one of those numbers, asking to use their toilet.

So, I sincerely apologize to all those sign owners from back then, that I had such wrong ideas about your level of English proficiency. Still I think it would be such a lovely thing of hospitality to offer your toilet for usage in case of an emergency. What an awesome community that would be to live in.

4 thoughts on “Lost in translation: So many “toilets” in Kathmandu”

  1. I literally stumbled across your Youtube videos by chance. Your Nepali language videos are very interesting and fascinating. I don’t what it is exactly but I think you have a very natural and unpretentious way of communicating. I clicked on the blog link and got a good chuckle reading the “to let” story!

    By the way, I’m originally from Nepal and have been living in the US for the past three decades. Have to admit your Nepali is better than mine!

    Anyways, just wanted to say your videos bring a smiles, joy and fond memories of the old country.

    Dhanyavad…or is it dhanyabad?

    1. धन्यवाद रोहित जी,
      तपार्इको कोमेन्ट पढेर खुशी लाग्यो मलार्इ। Devenagari ma typing garna ahilesamma pani dherai gahro lagekole, banki comment yastai nai lekhchu.
      Mero boli tapailai ramro lagekole mitho compliment nai huncha.
      Ani tapaiko nepali mero bhanda ramro bhaeko ma ma wishwas nai gardina. 😉
      Shubha hos tapaiko din,

      1. Namaste Bipana ji,

        I guess speaking Nepali more fluently for me is like learning to ride a bicycle again after a long time.

        In all honesty, I was never really good at it. My heritage is Newari but can’t speak that at all.

        I feel rather ashamed for admitting this. However, I am also inspired and humbled to see all your language videos and your mission to teach the language to anyone that may be interested.

        So here goes- maila tapai mero bhanda ramro nepali bolne saknu huncha bhaneko jhuta haina.

        Did I mess that one?

        Malai ekdin pheri nepal visit garnu ko ichya cha. Maybe pahar ko siano gaw my basera gaw ko manche lai help garnu ichya cha.

        Well, that took some effort !

        Dhanyavad till next time,


        1. Hey Rohit,

          you are almost there

          >maila tapai mero bhanda ramro nepali bolne saknu huncha bhaneko jhuta haina

          is corrected:
          tapai mabhanda ramro nepali bolna saknuhuncha bhanera jhuto hoina.

          > Malai ekdin pheri nepal visit garnu ko ichya cha.
          is corrected (I am though not 100% sure):
          Mero ek din pheri nepal jaane ko iccya cha.

          >Maybe pahar ko siano gaw my basera gaw ko manche lai help garnu ichya cha.
          is corrected:
          Shayad pahaD ko sano gaw mai basera gaw ko manche lai maddat (or: sahayog) garne ko iccya cha.

          I really appreciate you writing in Nepali – I believe the best way to improve one’s language skills is speaking/writing without fear of mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes when speaking in my videos – and I learn a lot from being corrected.

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