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Hanging Out With The Boys

by Stephen Lautens


November 1, 2002

There isn't a topic that's considered out of bounds anymore. The most personal aspects of everyone's lives are paraded through talk shows and documented in TV specials. Sexual dysfunction is water cooler talk and kids know more about the birds and bees than Pamela Lee.

So I don't feel like I'm stretching the bounds of propriety by passing on a recent report that about seven percent of Canadian men have a psychological condition that prevents them from using public urinals. 

It's also known as "shy bladder syndrome". Men with it can't "go" in public, especially if someone is in the next bathroom stall or standing at the next urinal.

When you think of it (and the ladies are going to have to trust me on this one) urinals are a pretty odd social custom. Even though I grew up in a family that believed that the only parts of the human body you can discuss are the ones that stick out of your clothes on a cold day, for some reason I've never thought twice about using a urinal. 

It's probably one of those things it's best not to spend too much time thinking about.

Even if they're not the usual subject of polite conversation, they are a remarkably efficient convenience. Just think about the relative lineups for washrooms at sports events. It's not that women's washrooms are badly designed - it's that someone put some thought into men's bodies. 

In a bar men can get up, go to the washroom and be back in their seat before anyone even knows they're missing. This also explains why men don't go to the washroom in pairs like women. There really isn't any point in striking up a deep and meaningful conversation that only lasts 45 seconds.

There are strict rules about permitted conversations while standing at a urinal. There are in fact only two things you can say while relieving yourself next to another man. 

The first is: "How's it going?", to which the only answer is "Fine". 

The only other thing you're allowed to say standing next to another man is: "Great game, eh?" But it's important to note that you're only allowed to say "great game" in a bathroom if you actually are at a sporting event.

Aside from the ability to get back to drinking your beer faster, men have other reasons for liking urinals. There's no seat to worry about, and if it has an autoflush you're pretty much in man heaven. Enlightened bar owners fill the bowls with ice or even little advertising pictures down at the bottom. In the US for a while targets with pictures of Osama Bin Laden were all the rage.

I have a friend who likes them so much he had one installed in his basement bathroom. Needless to say, he was the envy of all his male friends.

Considering what an ingrained part of the male culture it is, it must be difficult to have a shy bladder and miss out on all this fun and convenience. The only time I was at a loss in a public washroom was in Germany. Unknown to me they have the charming custom there of using female washroom attendants in men's rooms. Although she didn't mind a job that involved hanging out with the boys (if you'll pardon the expression) it certainly dampened my enthusiasm.

After all, a guy needs a little privacy, even if you have to share it with a dozen strange men..

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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