• Sat. Mar 18th, 2023

Strange detail in US public toilets baffles Australian travellers

ByGurinderbir Singh

Mar 18, 2023

No one wants to sit on the toilet in a public bathroom and be able to make eye contact with strangers washing their hands, right?

I recently returned from a trip to the United States and each time I travel there, one of my favourite things to do is make note of the small, unexpected – and often funny – differences to Australia.

There’s the obvious ones like having no idea how much something will actually cost because advertised prices don’t include taxes and tipping, and then there are the more niche observations … like the oddly large gaps in toilet stall doors.

I’m certainly not the first foreigner to ask what is going on, a quick Google search will tell you that. Even ask your mates; it turns out it’s a surprisingly common thought among travellers.

In 2019, US journalist Shannon Palus even penned a piece titled “Why Can’t We Have Decent Toilet Stalls?”.

“In America, our toilet stalls are awful. The flimsy partitions start at least a foot off the ground, don’t go anywhere near the ceiling, and fail to block the reality that we’re pooping and peeing right next to each other,” she wrote.

“Sometimes, these stalls are so shoddily constructed that there is a gap at the edge of the door through which a toilet sitter and someone outside the stall can make eye contact.”

She is not wrong and in my experience, the airport toilets are some of the worst.

Perhaps it stood out on my most recent trip because Melbourne Airport (the city I call home) now describes its toilets as “one of our biggest sources of pride”.

You read that right.

After winning the gong for ‘Best Airport in Australia/Pacific’ at the prestigious Skytrax awards in Amsterdam this week, Melbourne Airport boss Lorie Argus gave a shout out to the toilets.

“We’ve invested more than $40 million upgrading our toilets and rest rooms, which have gone

from being one of our biggest cause of complaints to one of our biggest sources of pride,” she said in a statement celebrating the win.

“Our new toilets feature upgraded family rooms, all gender rest rooms, Changing Places (adult change) and Assistance Animal Relief areas.”

While we’re comparing loos I do have to say the disposable toilet seat covers in a lot of public bathrooms in the US is a nice touch.

The public toilet doors wasn’t the only thing that left me scratching my head while in the US.

Having once studied a semester at a Californian university, I quickly learned first-hand Australians use a lot of words and phrases Americans don’t.

For example, you won’t catch them asking where the toilets are. It’s the rest room or bathroom.

You also don’t want to order chips thinking they’re going to be the delicious hot chips a seagull would fight you for. They’ll be cold out of a packet.

The list goes on, but perhaps the funniest one to learn was that when you say thongs referring to shoes they think you’re talking about underwear.

This time around I discovered they don’t know what a jumper is!

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