Dutch Quirk #35. Put public urinals in the middle of busy streets

HomeUltimate List of Dutch QuirksDutch Quirk #35. Put public urinals in the middle of busy streets

Picture this: you’re taking a delightful walk through a classic Dutch city, completely mesmerized by the canal houses when all of a sudden: yep, that’s a man peeing.

In almost any other first-world country a man peeing in the middle of a busy city shopping street during the day would garner cries of outrage, disgust, and rotten tomatoes flung in the man’s general direction.

In the Netherlands? It’s just a regular day! In fact, these open urinals are placed and paid for by municipalities — and they’re seriously gross. If you don’t see them at first, don’t worry — you’ll smell them. 🤢

What is it?

Put simply, open urinals are placed in various busy areas in some Dutch cities. They can have a curl design, like in Amsterdam where you can see the feet of the person peeing and often the jet stream too, or they might be a plastic design, like in Utrecht where you see the entire back of the man peeing.

picture-of-a-man-in-public-urinal-Amsterdam
What a picturesque view for a pee (and a less picturesque view for everyone else around). Image: CreativeFamily/Depositphotos

Why do they do it?

Because when you gotta go, you gotta go — even if it’s a confronting sight, is only for men, and smells really gross.

Why is it quirky? 

Besides it being totally Middle-Ages-style thinking to pee in the middle of a shopping street, there’s of course one main problem: women can’t really pee standing up. So every urinal effectively caters to just half of the population.

READ MORE | Why are there no public toilets in the Netherlands?

So why a urinal instead of a public toilet? Well, when the urinals were first implemented the urinal committee (yes, it existed) decided that men typically have their work on the street, so they would need it most.

When some kind soul stepped in and said “Hmm, why not have an option that caters to both men and women” the idea was quashed. Lockable toilets with four walls were deemed too expensive and could hide people committing lewd acts. (So now we get to see people pee instead, very much an improvement).

photo-of-four-men-using-outdoor-public-urinal-amsterdam
See Anne Frank house? Check! Take a canal boat ride? Check! Pee with all of your mates? Check! Image: Phototraveller/Depositphotos

The right to pee

Of course, women with bladders (a.k.a. an overwhelming majority of women) felt like this wasn’t entirely fair.

In 1970, one Dutch woman fought for the right to pee (plasrecht) by tying pink ribbons on Amsterdam urinals.

Then, in 2017 another woman went all the way to court to protest against receiving a fine for public urination when she didn’t have another option. (The judge decided that she could have peed in a urinal [but how?!] and, to be honest, we’re still mad.)

Should you join in? 

Ugh, no thanks. We’re done with seeing the butt cracks of men and the streams of wee when we’re going out for a coffee. This is one Dutch quirk that has gotta go.

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: CreativeFamily/Depositphotos

Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Sam isn’t great at being Dutch. Originally hailing from Australia, she came to study in the Netherlands without knowing where the country was on a map. She once accidentally ordered the entire ice-cream menu at Smullers. She still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike. But, she remains fascinated by the tiny land of tall people.

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