Can you see me pee?

At least it's not a squat toilet.

At least it’s not a squat toilet.

One of the things I love about traveling is it makes you see not only the world, but also yourself. When you live abroad, you learn about your host country and their way of doing things. In the process, you gain a point of comparison which sheds light on your home country and your own way of doing things. Well, it turns out there are lots of different ways to do the same things, big and small.

Like toilets. Or, “bathrooms” / “restrooms,” as Americans would less accurately (but more politely) call them. You probably just go in there and do your business and never give it much thought. I certainly didn’t. Until I started traveling, and discovered that there are almost as many different types of toilets as there are countries in the world.

I first encountered the (infamous) squat toilet in India, which every Westerner knows of (and fears). In Holland, I was perplexed by the unique flat-bowled Dutch toilet design  which has an “inspection shelf” that  enables you to easily view your poo. In London, the first flat I lived in had an antique high tank pull-chain toilet which made me feel very Victorian every time I took a wee. And the many pit latrines I squatted over during my travels through Africa expanded my definition of “toilet.”

Now that I’m back in the US, I’ve noticed something about American public restrooms (that is the ones you find in shopping malls, airport, office buildings, etc.). They are very low on privacy. They are almost always constructed in the same way, with flimsy metal doors hung on a frame which serves to provide the bare minimum level of “private” division between one toilet and the next.

The doors and walls never touch the floor (less the ceiling), meaning you can always see the feet of the person next to you (and inevitably endure the acoustics of their activities as well) . Not to mention these cheaply constructed cubicles often leave a gap between the door and the frame, leaving you peering out while sat on the loo and wondering if someone can peer back in at you. For sure the person queuing up for a stall can see your feet, but what about the rest?

This is a distinctly American thing. I’ve never seen toilets like this outside of North America. In Europe, the public toilets are totally different. They are much more private, in that each toilet cubicle is completely enclosed by a floor-to-ceiling wall on all sides and the doors close tightly. When you’re sat on the crapper, you’re in a totally enclosed space.

I don’t know why American restrooms are the way they are. Perhaps it’s a cost saving construction. Or it could be that Americans are less prudish than Europeans. Or maybe we’re just a nation of voyeurs.

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3 Comments

Filed under Practicalities

3 responses to “Can you see me pee?

  1. Sasha Gul

    I think it’s because Americans are more prudish, and implicitly value moral/criminal oversight over their own privacy/dignity. The cubicles give you barely enough privacy for evacuation but not enough for discreet fornication or drug use.

  2. Liberiana

    Interesting insight. When I was researching the topic online (I was trying to find answers/explanations for this!) some sources did say the American style cubicles were designed to prevent people from doing drugs or having sex in there. In Montreal, some places used to put blue lights in the bathrooms to avoid people shooting up in there.

  3. Vienna Blum

    My Catalan friends (who you may have met back in 2001) on our trip to Spain, Siqui put out a photo book called “toilet planet”. It captures imagery of WC’s from across the globe: http://www.fotosiqui.com/toiletplanet/la-campana/
    Check it out;)

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