Men can be pigs. And they can be most swine-like when it comes to bathroom behavior. They often don’t clean up after themselves and they frequently don’t wash their hands after relieving themselves. It’s disgusting, as women know all too well.
A 2005 study of bathroom etiquette in the US found that 90% of American women wash their hands after using the bathroom while just 75% of American males clean up. That percentage for men had actually fallen to 66% by 2007, according to a newer version of the study.
As quoted in the NY Times, Michael T. Osterholm, chairman of the public health committee of the American Society of Microbiologists, which commissioned the survey, said he couldn’t explain the difference:
“I don’t think anyone knows why men are so much less likely to wash than women. People who use urinals probably think they don’t need to wash their hands. But the overall message is that most Americans do wash their hands after using the bathroom, even though we have a long way to go.”
We have a long way to go, indeed, especially in Argentina, where poor bathroom infrastructure tends to promote bad behavior.
Still, that 66% figure for American males is higher than I would expect. My sense has always been that this percentage is actually much lower, both in the US and elsewhere. In Argentina, a lack of urinal “walls” and a dearth of soap are the main culprits.
In the US, the more educated a person is, the more likely he is to wash his hands. Interestingly, however, wealthier people are a bit less likely to wash their hands than are poorer people, according to the 2007 survey. I’m unaware of any bathroom hygiene studies in Argentina. However, my impression has always been that males here surpass even their American brethren in their abuse of public bathroom facilities. My suspicion is that this is related to bathroom infrastructure and not to any inherent cultural difference.
One of the worst violations of male bathroom etiquette here, or in any toilet-using nation, occurs when a man decides not to pee in a urinal but rather in a stall.
There, in the stall, where a person is meant to sit down, men often maintain their standing position and proceed to urinate from above, sprinkling all over the toilet seat with reckless abandon. The consequences of this, unbeknownst to men themselves, are hygienic disaster and aesthetic abomination. But men don’t care. They sprinkle away with ease. There’s apparently no Freudian mechanism that inspires introspection, disgust, guilt, shame or any other reflection on the public ramifications of their allegedly private act.
Male bathrooms such as those at bars like the microbrewery Buller in Recoleta, or even at the über modern MALBA museum, facilitate this dastardly deed by not providing walls or dividers between urinals. The worst abuser of this interior design tragedy are movie theater complexes like the Village Recoleta. In male restrooms at the Village, it can be common right after a movie to see more men urinating in the stalls than in the urinals.
The reason for this problem seems pretty straightforward. Men apparently don’t feel comfortable urinating while standing immediately adjacent to other men. Now, perhaps there is some Freudian reason for that. Whatever the cause, when men don’t have walls separating urinals, they tend to avoid the urinals altogether and head straight to the stalls, which do have walls, so they can urinate away without worrying if other men can see them.
This seems to occur more in male Buenos Aires bathrooms than in other places. The reason? Perhaps Argentine males are more sensitive about publicizing their bathroom behavior? Or perhaps there are simply fewer urinal dividers in Buenos Aires? Or perhaps it’s simply a misperception. After all, bathroom behavior varies from city to city and from establishment to establishment, according to the 2007 survey.
The study showed that only 57% of men in Atlanta washed their hands while 78% of men in Chicago did. So whatever the real percentage is for Porteño men, it may be unfair to compare their behavior to an entire country (the US) when perhaps it should be compared to other cities. Finally, there is no study either in the US or in Argentina that measures the percentage of “stall urinators” compared with proper “urinal urinators.” Who would fund such a study anyway? And what would we call it? “The 2009 Survey of Male Public Bathroom Behavior” or “Men and the Urination Station: a Complete Behavioral Study.”
Whatever the case, all of this leads to a simple question: Given the way men behave in bathrooms, why don’t architects and interior designers preempt such reptilian behavior by putting dividers between urinals? To not do so is to invite men to behave like, well, men.
Until an answer is forthcoming, the above video provides a fun, comedic look at the problem of bathroom etiquette and its implications for “civilization” here, there and everywhere.