Everybody poops. This is a fact, and there are the kids books to prove it. However, despite the ubiquity of this bodily function, admitting that everybody poops, and talking about it, is one of the starkest cultural differences I noticed when living abroad.
In Italy, everyone believes (especially women) that they are a doctor. When it comes to medical things, there is nothing too disgusting, or too taboo to talk about amongst your friends. Your pooping habits are no exception, and are discussed freely even amongst people you don’t know very well at all. The topic might come up the way that the weather might come up. Even when I was living in Padova, and working with a very shy and conservative technician, who would never discuss anything even tangentially sex-related for fear of shaming herself, would occasionally walk in to work and say “Hi! Sorry I’m late. I had a little diarrhea this morning and I thought it best to wait and make sure that it wouldn’t happen again. I’m fine now, though, so problem solved! Anyway, that’s why I’m late.” As long as it’s medical, it is a topic of discussion, and no one will fault you for bringing it up, and will often jump in the conversation with questions as to why you think you had the diarrhea, how often it happens, and suggestions as to what you could do to prevent it. “Oh, have you tried Immodium? I find that works best for me.” “Oh no, last time I took Immodium it went too far and blocked me up for three days! Tea with lemon works fine for me most of the time…”
That was the culture that I grew up in, and moving to Ireland taught me very quickly to shut up about it.
When I was living in Ireland, there was no topic more taboo than pooping. I was living with roommates, and for a couple of years we were four people were sharing one windowless bathroom. In my culture, it is only polite to announce to the room that you intend to poop in the bathroom, so that others can perhaps pee first, or pop in there if they have something quick to do. I rapidly discovered that is not the case in Ireland. Once I said it, and I was raucously laughed at, stared at in shock, and told “eeewww gross TMI Crys!” I was so embarrassed I never brought it up again. The fact was, pretty much everything else was discussed freely and openly. Sex, masturbation habits, and period discussions with men in the room were all far, far more socially acceptable than poop. I was amazed at the stark contrast between the two cultures. I then started listening to various American podcasts, and I would pick up casual cultural references to women who wont poop in a house if their long term boyfriends are there, because obviously I’m never going to get that comfortable in front of him OMG even if we’re married, or about how only boys with juvenile humor talk about poop, etc. etc. I started to internalize the shame around talking about poop, and I started to embarrassedly refer to it as “going to the bathroom” those very few times it ever came up.
Moving back to Italy unblocked that constipation (har har har). Despite the fact that I was living in the most conservative community I had ever lived in in my life, poop discussions were back on the table. At first I found it hilarious, and then it became the new normal.
Now, in Germany, I find it is somewhere in between these two extremes. They don’t bring it up often, but if it comes up no one blanches, or squeals in disgust, but might even join in the conversation for a time. Amusedly pointing out the different habits of different people, even mentioning the habits of your husband or friend, is not considered rude or embarrassing, no one says “OMG he’d kill me if he knew I told you that!”
Personally, I’m back to discussing it freely, and not caring. I realized that shame is a completely useless emotion that I am doing away with completely. There is no reason to be ashamed of ones body, or what one chooses to do with it. The few things that one actually should be ashamed of, like treating others cruelly, I have resolved not to do in the first place, thereby avoiding having to feel shame altogether. I have become somewhat famous for this: there is no topic that embarrasses me anymore, and it is why the word “shameless” appears in my banner and my description. That doesn’t mean that I walk around bellowing about what my poop looked like that morning, or that I am not polite to people. Rather, it means that there is no personal question you could ask me that I would be embarrassed to answer, and there is no topic of discussion that I would find too crude to participate in and give my opinion on.
This is the part where I kick the discussion over to you. What is your culture like on the poop topic? But, more importantly, do you feel shame about certain things that you do, and/or do you think that shame is in any way a necessary thing to have?