Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Urinal Rule

I realized that I never posted this. That whole censorship thing got to me! But now that I'm out of Chi, I can post anything I want. Well, in all honesty, I could have posted this here at any time, I just forget about it. So, without further ado:

Urinal Rule: Universal Truth or Evolutionary Relic?

A little over a month before the writing of this article, I was introduced to an interesting concept explained to me as "The Urinal Rule." Now, I kid you not, that is exactly how it sounded, with quotation marks and all. This rule, I was told, stated that one... Well, first I suppose I should explain the set-up of a male bathroom for the ladies out there who (hopefully) have never been in a guys bathroom.

In the male lavatory, there are two places in which a man may relieve himself: the toilet and the urinal. The toilet needs no explaining. It's the throne of men, and women, and has been since the dawn of modern plumbing. But the urinal, ah, that is the prize of every man's anatomical advantage. In the typical bathroom, there are anywhere from one to seven urinals, depending on the location. A urinal is like a toilet put on its side, opened up, and barred to the world. And very convenient to pee in, I must add.

Now, back to the Urinal Rule. One thing lacking in my description of urinals is the fact that most urinals are immediately next to one another, with, typically, no divider. Therefore, you, to put it crudely, pee with your neighbor. Now I was told, after an embarassing incident in which I stood next to someone at a urinal, that such an act defies a universal code of male conduct known as, and here it is, the Urinal Rule. I was informed that every man knows for a fact that when there are three urinals, one never, and I mean never, uses the center urinal. If there are two urinals and one is occuppied, the other person must wait their turn. Now, this assumes no divider. With dividers, anything goes. But back to the Urinal Rule. I was quite dismayed by my lack of knowledge in this area. So I decided to conduct a survey.

After a thoroughly unscientific study of my peers, I found that 1 in every 600 men don't know about this urinal rule. So that led me to an interesting thought: perhaps the urinal rule is NOT a universal truth, as I was told. It might be a cultural norm. Or just maybe, and this might get certain people angry at me, it's an evolutionary relic! After asking a very respectable source, I was informed that humans are animals. Okay, I can accept that part. I was also told that humans, as animals, have a natural sense of "personal space" that they wish to maintain between themselves and others. This sense of space depends on numerous factors, including how intimate a person is with the people around them. Interesting.

I took this line of inquiry a step further and found work by a Dr. Edward Hall called Proxemic Theory. This theory states that personal space is not only defined not only by biology, but also by culture. Different cultures have different ways of determing the space that one may enter without causing discomfort. Dr. Hall then divides the world into two types of people, the contact variety and the non-contact variety. The contacts include Arabs, Latin Americans, and Southern Europeans. Contacts have little to no personal space, and because of this don't mind people being near them, or even touching them. The non-contacts include Asians, Northern Europeans, and, not suprisingly, Americans. Non-contacts feel very uncomfortable when someone they are not intimate with gets too close. We are, therefore, a non-contact culture.

And there you have it. One thing is most certain: the urinal rule IS NOT a universal truth. If it is anything, it's a culturally bound tradition affected slightly by biological factors. But that won't change whether or not you feel comfortable urinating next to me. And yet, it makes me feel better to know why.

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