Restrooms Around the World

July 29, 2007
Why would there be blue lights in a public restroom?

Blue toilerWhy would there be a blue light in a bathroom stall? A new decorating theme? That’s what I wondered when I went into the restroom of a restaurant in Adelaide, Australia, last year and was surrounded by blue light. Since this was the first day of our vacation, I wondered if all Aussie restaurants followed that theme. I hoped not, for it sure didn’t do much for the complexion.

Turns out this is the only one I saw, but when I asked what it meant, I was told something I never would have guessed. The light was used to discourage heroin addicts from using the stall to shoot up! Apparently with blue light you can’t distinguish your veins. Who would’ve thought!

Another thing was different Down Under than I’ve seen in the states. There were frequently needle disposal containers in the restrooms. As the instructions on the yellow box of a restroom on a train from Adelaide to Melbourne states: “Deposit Used Syringes Here.” I was told the containers were needed so people with diabetes (as well as drug users) would not dispose of their needles in regular wastebaskets. This prevented janitors from getting jabbed when handling the trash.

Incidentally, in bathrooms in both Australia and New Zealand we observed that a frequently-stated “fact” turns out to be false. We had been told that water would go down drains in sinks, bathtubs and toilet bowls in a circular motion to the left (counterclockwise). This was supposedly the opposite of the way water drained in the northern hemisphere because of the “Coriolis force.” The theory arose because people observe hurricanes in the northern hemisphere spin to the right (clockwise) and below the equator they go left. Turns out there is such a small body of water in a bathroom, according to the Library of Congress website, that the spin of the earth has no effect and the direction water drains depends on many other factors. Try it out the next time you use a restroom anywhere in the world.

If you’re observant, you can expand your horizons not only watching the direction of water going down the drain, but by noticing how different our customs are concerning restroom facilities around the world, for you must use them no matter where you go.

In Japan six or seven years ago I found it a challenge to use the non-western “squat” stalls. It wasn’t a terrible problem in getting down, but what about getting up? I was hesitant to put my hand on the floor to give myself a boost. Now that I’m far less nimble than I was then, it was be a particular challenge.

In Germany I was delighted with stalls labeled with movie star names. When you were seated on the throne, you could read, on the inside of the door, press releases about their lives.

For the fun of it, these questions may help you look at restrooms in a new light, blue or otherwise.


What is the most unusual restroom feature you’ve seen in your travels?

What is the most beautiful and inviting restroom you’ve ever used?

What is the most unusual description used to designate male and female rooms?

What was your most embarrassing experience of going into the wrong room because you misinterpreted a sign?

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