Yesterday I asked a question of bathroom etiquette on Facebook that flushed out some fairly adamant and, at times, surprising responses.  America’s weird toilets are apparently well-known amongst the expat community. 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. Let’s face it, America has some weird toilets.

Why is There so Much Water In American Toilets?

American toilet bowl and seat

Honestly, there’s enough water there to drown in.

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 here makes you feel awfully close to the ocean and the frightening potential for splashback. You’re very welcome for that mental picture. I may have also heard a comment about some gentlemen, getting a little unwanted wash when they sit down on the loo.

One of the side effects of having such a “high water line” so to speak, is that when you flush, the bowl fills with water, scarily close to the rim. I dare you not to hold your breath the first time you see that toilet water rising to the edge of the bowl, and readying yourself for a mad dash as far away as possible. But if you really want the lowdown on why the water line is so high, read on.

Why do American Toilets Block so Easily?

I know, it’s not fun to talk about, but trust me, you’re going to be thankful that you read this one day. America’s plumbing is  different to that in other countries, it’s narrower, which explains why America’s weird toilets are so easy to block. Invest in a heavy duty plunger, because you’re definitely going to need one. No two ways about it.

But if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know why that is. It’s all about the method used to get rid of the waste in the toilet. American toilets are all about suction, they pull the waste down when the toilet is flushed, and then out into the “trap way”. The amount of suction required for this process means that the “trap way” needs to be narrow, and it’s usually around five centimetres wide.

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Meanwhile, in Australia and Europe, water is used to push the waste down the drain, so the “trap way” can be much wider, and less prone to blockages. It’s also why there is much less water in an Australian or European toilet bowl, than there is in a US one.

American Toilet Bowl and Seat Shape

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.

I found out the reason for the “U-shaped seat” right here on Slate. But if you don’t want to read through all the conspiracy theories, here’s a quote from Slate. “The original purpose for the U-shaped seat, according to Lynne Simnick, senior director of code development at IAPMO—the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials—was to aid women. Simnick explains that the open seat was designed to allow women “to wipe the perineal area after using the water closet” without contacting a seat that might be unhygienic.”

Yeah… I don’t know if I’m happier knowing about that or not. In any case, the U-shaped seat is listed in the IAPMO’s Uniform Plumbing Code as a requirement in all public toilets.

In public toilets theyalso  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.

Why is There a Huge Gap in American Public Toilet Doors?

Gaps in American toilet doors

So these gaps aren’t too bad, but there’s definitely the potention for eye contact.

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.

So I did a bit of research on the reason why those gaps exist in the first place. And the truth is, it seems that either no one knows why they’re there, or they’re just not sharing the secret with the rest of us. Even Buzzfeed gave the mystery a shot, and couldn’t come up with an answer. But I’m satisfied with knowing that I’m not the only one who feels that this is just not on.

Why Are The Locks on American Toilet Doors so Flimsy?

American public restroom door locks

These locks do not feel very secure to me

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.

Australian public toilet door locks

What’s wrong with these?

Bathroom Etiquette (or lack thereof)

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.

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

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There you have it, America’s weird toilets explained, and as many variations on the word “toilet” as I could muster. I hope this has answered all of your questions, but if you’ve noticed any other strange things about American public restrooms, let me know in the comments!

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