Give pee a chance: Why German men urinate sitting down
- Are you a man who pees while sitting down? The Germans have a word for it: Sitzpinkler.
- The trend is fairly recent but has swept Germany, thanks in part to the "Toilet Ghost," a device that instructs men to take a seat — in the voice of recent German chancellors for added authority.
- The main reasons for the trend are hygiene and health — and perhaps also smartphones.
Does language shape culture? Yes, says the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This map may be used as additional evidence. Take the German language: rich in single words that express things other languages need half a sentence to describe. One such word is Sitzpinkler, a man who pees sitting down. Not only do the Germans have a word for it, they are remarkably more proficient at it than most other nationalities.
Recently, UK-based pollster YouGov published the results of a 13-country survey of men’s urinating preferences. This map shows the eight countries surveyed in Europe — the others were Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Singapore, and Australia. Of all 13 countries, Germany was the one where most men sat down “every time” to urinate (40%). Add those who do so “most times” (22%), and you get the result shown on the map: nearly two-thirds are Sitzpinkler (without final “s”: the word is both singular and plural).
That puts German men well ahead of their second-placed counterparts in Sweden, where only 22% of men sit down “every time.” More Swedish men sit down “most times” (28%). Danish men place third overall (44%), ahead of Australians (39%) and Canadians (35%). The streams of French (35%) and Italian (34%) men almost cross, but despite the overall closeness of the result, a considerably larger share of French men are Sitzpinkler of the “every time” variety (19% vs. 13% in Italy). Dangling at the bottom of the European league are Poland (27%) and the UK (24%), with only 10% of Polish men and 9% of British blokes sitting down “every time.”
The U.S. is on the lower end of the scale: only 10% of American men sit down to pee “every time,” with an additional 13% “most times.” Still, this is not as low as Mexico or Singapore, where 6% and 5% of men respectively sit down to pee “every time.”
How is it that German men are so proficient at sitting down when taking care of number one? By all accounts, it’s a fairly recent development. A useful marker is a device called the Spuk (“spook”), or WC-Geist (“toilet ghost”), first marketed in Germany in 2004. You place it under the toilet seat, and as a man in need lifts that seat to get a cleaner shot at the bowl, the device voices a message requesting that you return the seat to its horizontal position and do your business while sitting down. For added authority, the warning can imitate Angela Merkel, Helmut Kohl, or other former chancellors.
“Toilet ghosts” helped change attitudes
Indeed, the early 2000s seem to be when a change of attitude swept across Germany. Before, Sitzpinkler was a word with a strong negative connotation. If you peed “like a girl,” then you had to be a weak, wimpy kind of man.
Around that time, “toilet ghosts” and written signs appeared in German toilets, especially in shared apartments and other communal facilities, asking male visitors to sit down while urinating. German parents now more frequently instruct their sons from childhood to do the same. This is for two main reasons: hygiene and health. How shall we put this delicately? Not every aim is true. Men who pee standing up (frequently) will miss the target, leaving a mess for (typically) others to clean up. Sitting down to pee is more hygienic, and more considerate to your hosts.
Also, peeing while sitting down empties the bladder faster and more completely. Those are better options especially for men with prostate or lower urinary tract problems. There are a few additional advantages: it’s quieter, and if you decide to go for number two as well — you’re already there.
But no culture is a monolith, and although Germany has veered toward the sitting-down option, 1 in every 10 German males remains a radical Stehpinkler (that is, someone who always pees standing up). In a now infamous 2015 court case, the two cultures came to a head, so to speak.
Last hurrah for Stehpinkler
In that year, a court in Düsseldorf heard the case of a landlady who refused to repay a €1,900 (app. $2,050) deposit because her tenant’s “spillover” had damaged the marble bathroom floor around the toilet. The judge acknowledged the damage, but found in favor or the tenant, a confirmed Stehpinkler: “Despite growing domestication of men in this matter, urinating while standing up is still common practice.”
Does that sound like an unqualified endorsement of the right of Germen men to pee standing up? That ruling may turn out to be its last hurrah.
As Germany goes, so go a lot of other European countries, notably the Nordics, Netherlands, and France — all moving at varying speeds from standing up to sitting down. Even in low-scoring countries like the U.S. and UK, as per that YouGov survey, the younger generation seems a bit keener on the idea than the over-55s.
There is, however, one country that far surpasses Germany when it comes to sitzpinkeln, and that is Japan. Perhaps coincidentally, they also have a word for it: suwari-shon. According to various surveys, the share of Japanese men who pee sitting down has increased dramatically over the past decades, from 15% in 1999 to around 40% in 2007 and around 60% in 2020.
Only 12% said they were “native” sitters, with nearly half of those surveyed saying they had switched from standing to sitting. Perhaps the rapid increase in suwari-shon is due to Japan’s rightly famous high-tech toilet technology, with heated seats and various jet streams on offer to please sitters.
One trend as yet unmentioned may explain the increasing popularity of the seated option and predict its future rise: the toilet has become a preferred location to either hide from the internet, or — more likely — to hide with the internet. Zillions of social media posts are composed and consumed in the place where even the king (and queen) go on foot.
Strange Maps #1206
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