Why American Toilets and Bathroom Etiquette are Bloody Strange

Yesterday I asked a question of etiquette on Facebook that flushed out some fairly adamant and, at times, surprising responses. But I felt like I didn’t come anywhere close to reaching my toilet humour potential. Nor did I get the chance to fully explore the extent of my knowledge of thunderbox synonyms.

When you move to a new country, it’s the subtle differences that you notice the most at first. The little, everyday things that you don’t really pay attention to at home because they’re familiar and the way things should be.

For me it was the bogs. Be they of the public variety, or the ones in the privacy or your own apartment, they’re all just colluding to freak you the hell out.

To start with they’re between half and three-quarters full of water at all times. That seems to be slightly too close for comfort to me. Sure, it’s all perspective, but sitting on the lav makes you feel awfully close to the ocean and the frightening potential for splashback. You’re very welcome for that mental picture.

The shape of the bowl and seat are mind boggling. Step into The Oval Office and the throne (I could have gone with Resolute desk but it just doesn’t sound right) is exactly that – oval. What’s wrong with circles? Who is responsible for the design of the toilet seat? And why didn’t s/he deem it necessary to fork out for the small amount of plastic molding required to close off the circle/oval? Maybe American women are just all-round better people than I am, but for the life of me, I cannot achieve a hover over those damn things.

In public toilets they give you paper seat covers for hygiene purposes presumably. Look people, I hardly want to touch the door locks (that’s a whole other thing), and you want me to place a piece of paper on a grotty turdis and plonk myself down on it? Uhh… no thanks.

I can see you… don’t look at me!

I like my privacy and personal space. In queues, I purposely leave at least a metre between me and the person in front, at the gym I use the bike furthest away from everyone else in the room, so it stands to reason that I quite like my trip to the facilities to be private. Unfortunately the stall door engineers didn’t take this into consideration. Anywhere. There are large gaps between the doors and the walls. I’m talking big enough for you to accidentally cop an eyeful as you’re walking past an occupied stall.

The locks are not very comforting either. I’m used to the kind of latch that turns all the way and you can see the lock mechanism engage. But not in the US. Turn that knob and you might see a tiny button pop out to slot into the door jamb. It feels like a gust of wind could blow that thing open at any second.

Right way
Wrong way

And then there’s the bathroom etiquette. I’ve noticed this mostly at work. People will use the bathroom stall as a personal cubicle to conduct their life from. I’ve heard numerous phone conversations, soundtracked with some ambient tinkling, I’ve overheard people watching YouTube how-to videos and I’m fairly sure that one woman was on a conference call in there.

A grown person did this. NOT COOL PEOPLE!

They take their laptops and tablets in with them. There’s also someone in the office who pulls out ALL the seat covers from the dispenser and scrunches them up on the floor next to the loo. How old are these people? I ask this specifically because there’s a lot of wee on the floor. And sometimes other things.

Thank God for copious amounts of hand sanitizer. I miss you Australia.

American toilets | restrooms | bathrooms | public toilets in the US | Public toilets in America | Strange American toilets | Aussie | Expat | Aussie Expat in US | Expat Life

Linking up with Denyse Whelan, for Life This Week – My favourite post of 2016. What can I say? I’m all about bathroom humour.

16 thoughts on “Why American Toilets and Bathroom Etiquette are Bloody Strange

  1. PMSL – I was definitely LOL as I read this – K and I have had very similar conversations when I was over there. I don't get the water levels and I definitely don't get the gaps in the doors – do they save that much money cutting the door an inch short ?????? I know it's one thing that K misses about Australia too !!
    Have the best weekend (when it gets there) xox

  2. What kind of country is America? What is going on?!

    Do they call it the washroom? Here you can just be like "where's the toilet/loo?" but you never hear people use the word toilet in American stuff!

  3. Ugh! I lived in Africa and Asia for a while so when I return to Oz I wasn't particularly fussy about public toilets cos – if there was running water – then that was a good thing. Sadly I've become a bit fussier again as time has passed… but the whole toilet ettiquette thing isn't something we give enough attention to.

    In a previous life I was involved with a company who supported o/s students on scholarships to Oz and one of the 'cultural' sessions they had was re toilets – not to stand on them etc etc..

  4. Oh I have a 'love' and 'hate' relationship with toilets thanks for my ever-annoying IBS and never quite knowing WHEN..so I know the loo stops between home and Dad's in Sydney. I am actually 'grateful' for public toilets in Aus as they beat the alternative for me! I remember when I traveled to the US being weirded out by the water level too. Mind you, toilets I least like are the 'drop ones' on the roadside in more isolated parts of Aus. Thanks for linking up for #lifethisweek 1/52. Denyse

  5. OK I have nothing to complain about compared to you Deborah. I guess it's all relative to your experiences, isn't it?

    Oh yeah, that's an important lesson. I guess it's confusing to overseas students having not dealt with those kinds of toilets. Less embarrassment for everyone too.

  6. I totally agree with all of this! I walked into the toilet cubicle when someone was on it because the lock didn’t engage correctly – SERIOUSLY, I am still embarrassed about this! Also, the look of horror of people’s faces if you dare say you are going to the TOILET….. I have learnt to say restrooms, or I will just say loo now.

    1. OMG how embarrassing! That is my worst nightmare to be honest. Someone walking in because the lock isn’t engaged.
      Hahaha, I say “bathroom”, which I know isn’t really what they say here but I can’t bring myself to be all hoity toity with “restrooms”.

  7. Toilet talk never gets old and the US loos never cease to amaze me! Not only are they almost too full of water, they are SO low. Perhaps it’s a government initiative to get people to do more incidental squatting? I still don’t get the huge gaps in the doors. I can only imagine they were designed either by pervs or people who have no regard for privacy. It’s borderline indecent! I always thought US TV series and movies were laying it on a bit thick with how much happens in the bathroom but now you’ve told me about your office, it must be true!

    1. Thank you! *bows*
      There is no way to get sick of talking about loos. Hahaha, incidental squatting must be it, because otherwise I can’t work out why you’d do it otherwise.

  8. Americans wonder about the door gaps too. We hate them, along with the broken locks, etc, and people absolutely discuss what store or location has nicer bathrooms. There is a whole storyline on Seinfeld, the record breaking sitcom, about knowing all the best public bathrooms in New York City.

    I always assumed the imposed lack of privacy in the stalls was to prevent misuse: discourage loitering, illicit behavior, etc. Of course all it has actually done is cause people to become numb to it and go on doing whatever they were going to do anyway (as you noted.)

    It’s true that Americans like a fuller water level than say, very low. I have a pretty solid theory as to why but, yknow, don’t feel like typing those gory details.

    It’s similar about the shape: oval is absolutely considered newer and better. Circle is considered ‘quaint’ and old. An oval shape toilet bowl and seat here is actually larger (extension by length) than a circle design. It’s definitelt not about saving money. I believe it’s about allowing extra forward and backward room to prevent certain, say, overspills. Which obviously, per your illustration, is futile.

    It’s definitely bathroom casually, restroom formally, or even more formally ladies’ room or men’s room. Washroom, lavatory, toilet and loo–anyone saying it with an accent should be immediately understood. But if you said it while perceived as a local, I could see people making a comment or taking a second to figure out why you are calling it that.

  9. Often found myself with the very same questions. Why the big, overfilled oval bowl and why can’t they get doors, door jambs and walls to meet? Can I add those that auto flush to the list – I’ve had broken ones flush on me waaay before I was ready to move, and no one needs that kind of bidet!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.