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The Public Restroom

I have always been fascinated by public restrooms. What stirs this curiosity is the sociological aspects of restroom use and the writing that often litters the walls. I’m intrigued by the unspoken rule of etiquette in our society that determines restrooms as a “neutral zone,” free from public discourse. People are often embarrassed to discuss their restroom experiences in the open, and even less so with strangers. For this study, I became that stranger, armed with a one page questionnaire and a handful of pencils. My aim was to observe the many social aspects of this neutral zone. As an anthropologist would, I sought to understand human patterns, behaviors, norms and fears associated with public restrooms­­, and to bring the private conversation to the forefront.

“If there’s no proper lining, I’ll sit on my hands so I don’t touch the toilet seat.”

Perception of Cleanliness

Gender perceptions in regards to the cleanliness of restrooms resulted in some interesting observations. Out of all people who were interviewed, nearly 80 percent believed the women’s restroom is considerably cleaner than men’s. Never having stepped foot inside a women’s room, some men felt the women’s room would have to be cleaner, attributed to the perceived differences between male and female hygiene. But, is it merely a gender issue? Perhaps it’s as one person suggests: “I would have to say that the clientele who use the bathroom contribute more to the cleanliness than their genders.”

I’ve had too many incidents where, in a frenzy, I accidently walked into an occupied stall. Man, that’s the worst, especially when you catch someone in a compromising situation. About the only words that ever come out of my mouth at a time like that are “excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” But I’m not really sorry, it’s not my fault. For gods sake, why don’t people lock the doors? The worst part is having to take the stall next to them after the awkward encounter, that can be a very disturbing and humiliating experience to say the least.

I always do the footcheck

I’ve never had a chance to look underneath a toilet, not that I ever longed to do so. But, There’s not much there really. Mostly it’s what you might expect to see.

“Messy toilets, unhygienic urinals, “My biggest fear is a giant snake

excessive litter and a dirty pot.”

coming out of the toilet seat” “I’m always fearful and somewhat suspicious of

“Too much water in the bowl, parts dipping into it.”

public restrooms because I’m worried I might catch some unknown disease.”

“If the handsoap is not biodegradable and if the toilet paper is not made from a sustainable source.”

“Dropping my cellphone in the toilet bowl.”

“A man making a pass at me. He could be a cop, like “Being alone in the restroom at night”

what happened to George Michael, and anyway, it gives a bad name to the gay community.”

“I fear broken stall door locks, and people who don’t look for feet.”

“No toilet paper when you really need to go. Or even worse, taking a crap and realizing there isn’t any TP.” “I’m really worried about getting bacteria on my purse or pee on the seats, I think about that every time.”

The efforts of a person who washes their hands before departing a lavatory are negated if they must touch a door handle. In most cases, it is likely that some previous users have failed to wash their hands. Most door handles are covered with millions of harmful bacteria, often containing other hazards such as Influenza (Flu), Meningitis, Hepatitis A and many other harmful and potentially deadly microorganisms. Who knows what people do in a restroom stall? The reality is scary. Roughly one out of three people rarely wash their hands, passing bacteria, and viruses to every surface their hands come in contact with. Not to mention the urine, feces, blood, semen, or other bodily fluids that might remain on their hands after exiting the stall.

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Urinal blocks come in may assorted colors. Often times, their names are as colorful as themselves. Some common names include: urinal mint, urinal biscuit, urinal cake, toilet lolly, urinal puck & trough lolly.

Assorted Colors

Urinal deodorizer blocks are the small disinfectant blocks found in men’s urinals. They are usually cylindrical—about eight centimeters in diameter, two centimeters thick, and weigh about one hundred grams when new. The shape is the source of their name, as they somewhat resemble small cakes. They are generally pink in color, although other colors, such as green, blue, yellow, orange and white are used. The chemicals composing the block may vary. The base is commonly pure paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene. The block’s functionality is enhanced by saturating it with a scenting compound and quaternary ammonium compounds. They can last up to 30–60 days.

As the paint peels, the dirt piles up and the water drips, there are evermore traces of people having been here. Public restrooms can be anthropological goldmines.

Whatever you do, don’t look over.

Central to urinal etiquette is the “veil of silence” that descends upon men in public bathrooms. Strangers in the bathroom will never speak to one another, unless politeness dictates a curt “excuse me.” But, even these small responses are lost when either party is actually using the urinal. At the urinal, people will not make eye contact, and almost never look to either side. Usually, while urinating, men look straight ahead, scrutinizing the tiles or wallpaper. Looking down, except when zipping or unzipping, is frowned upon. Looking over, is a sign of sexual advancement, cause for extreme discomfort and possible confrontation.

oRigins of The cRaPPeR

Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet as it is commonly believed. Some credit for that is usually given to Sir John Harington in 1596, with Alexander Cummings’ 1775 toilet regarded as the first of the modern line and George Jennings installing the first public toilets at The Great Exhibition in 1851 — but John Crapper did help increase the flush toilet’s popularity. In a time when bathroom fixtures were barely spoken of, he heavily promoted sanitary plumbing and pioneered the concept of the bathroom fittings showroom. Crapper’s flush toilet advertising was so widespread that the word “crapper” became a synonym for “toilet.”

“Urine therapy� refers to various applications of human urine for medicinal or cosmetic purposes, including drinking or massaging the skin with urine.

Traditionally, public restrooms have been designed with a sense of dullness, being sterile and unexpressive. Yet, the irony is that in such a sterile environment, a lot of expression and communication takes place, forming a world nestled in the cracks, tiles, glass and metal.

I once wrote graffiti on a wall because I didn’t like somebody and I wanted to ruin his life.

e l becaus o n a wa l

l bec o n a wa l

ik e s I d id n ’t l

I once wrote graf fiti on a wall beca use I didn ’t like so

f it i ot e g r a f I once wr

f it i ot e g r a f I once wr

I on ce wr ote gra ffi ti on a wa ll bec aus e I did n’t lik e s

When I was younger, I used to work as a janitor. When I first started, and I walked into the women’s restroom, I came across my first metal feminine napkin container. I recall my co-worker saying to me—”It’s your turn to clean the honeypots.” Honeypots, why are they called honeypots I asked him. “You’ll know when Summer gets here” he said with a wicked laugh that followed. When summer came, I knew why — the smell, it was utterly repulsive

Sometimes the



public restroom book.

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