There’s a long-standing joke, or idea or something that when a man goes to the toilet in a public urinal, if there’s someone already there, he will stand as far away as possible from the other person. I’m sure this forms the basis of many second-rate stand-up comedians’ material: “If he’s standing at one end, you better go right to the other end or he’ll think you’re a poof… geddit?”
While this does convey one of the basic rules of urinal etiquette, it’s not an accurate assessment of the situation. So, I will now enlighten you with Considerations When Using a Public Urinal.
Consideration #1: Other men
When one approaches a urinal where there is already one man, or more in urino, one must weigh up the best position to assume at the urinal. Let’s take the common example of where there is one man already at the urinal. The correct approach is not to get as far away as possible from the other person but merely to assume a position which leaves a safe distance. This is a personal space issue. If a man goes off and huddle in the corner and turns as much of his back as possible to other users, this appears as though he has something to hide or is insecure in some way about any number of things to do with his privates.
The idea is to assume a position which leaves enough room for fellow users, while asserting and assuming your own amount of personal space. The boundaries of this personal space are, of course, invisible and will contract as the number of simultaneous users increases. A slight shuffle to the side is a gesture of camaraderie that any man can, and should, make towards fellow men in need of relief.
Another aspect of the personal space issue to take into account is that of intentional intimidation. The antithesis of the fellow who hides in a corner is the man who deliberately stands too close to a fellow user, invading his personal space, using whatever means, be they size (of body or body part), dress (better, cooler, rougher as the situation entails) or ego (which can be proportional to alcohol intake), in order to make the other man feel nervous. This is not limited to rough pubs, as might be assumed, but has its roots in the age-old tradition of high-school bullying.
#2: Urinal size
Some public urinals, particularly those in small offices, really have a capacity of no more than two pisseurs. Some are made to fit in whatever space was left when the facilities were designed and have a capacity of 1.5 average men: two men could conceivably fit there but the personal space issues presented by such urinals usually mean that only a single man can use the facility at one time, taking up all the room available, while any subsequent arrivals are consigned to the cubicle (and whether to close the door for a stand-up job is a whole other essay). Men should not feel intimidated when another user is present at a two-man urinal as the above advice applies: the personal space decreases within the parameters of the facility as the number of users increases. So it’s all good and well to enjoy the space if available but a man who expects others to use the cubicle just because he’s standing there is being rather selfish.
Larger urinals mean more choice. The basic concept applies that if there are other users present, any newcomers should occupy the largest vacancy, thereby minimising any encroachment on others’ personal space. The myth that men try to get as far away as possible from other men probably came about because of the fact that if one assumes a position at the end of a urinal, there will never be the chance that any more than one ‘neighbour’ will be present during a visit. Men who assume an end position have half the concern of having their personal space impinged upon. The flip side to this is that there is nowhere left to move should another man try to intimidate . A way to counter this is to leave a buffer between oneself and the end, giving some shuffle space should someone enter the urinal mid-stream and occupy the vacant position.
Consideration #3: Direction of flow
An all-too-often neglected consideration is the fall of the base of the urinal leading to the drain. The discerning gentleman will choose a position upstream so he doesn’t have to look down and see other men’s expelled liquids gushing by. Moreover, the closer a man stands to the drain, the higher his chances of this happening. While sanitation standards in western countries minimise any risk to public health in this situation, the idea of overseeing and being exposed to multiple currents is less than savoury.
Most urinals flow from one side to another. In order to minimise exposure to others’ flows it’s a simple matter of assuming a position at the opposite end to the drain. Some urinals have a central drain, in which case either end is considered safe. Other, particularly long urinals have a drain at either end and a central apex. In such cases, choosing an end as the safest place to stand may have unexpected and unwelcome consequences. Choosing to stand in the middle of a 5+ metre-long urinal when one person is already at an end will not abuse his right to personal space, further dispelling the ‘take-an-end-at-all-costs’ myth.
So, there you have it. Not rocket science but perhaps more to it than you previously thought. Happy pissing.