#BathroomsOfTheWorld: Dutch Toilets and the Poop Shelf

Upon arriving at our home exchange in den Haag, I noticed something odd about two of the three toilets in the house: instead of a bowl full of water, they contained a shelf.

After the first couple uses, this shelf became baffling. What the hell was the point of it?! Why would you not want some odor-disguising water instead of allowing things to land on an open-air shelf?!

Well, we can thank the Germans.

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The purpose of the shelf is inspection. You’re meant to look at the consistency, shape, color, abnormalities, etc. before flushing, and then hope that the rush of water cleans the shelf enough – otherwise, that’s what the brush is for.

Another interesting thing to note about the water closets (because the toilets are all separate from the bathrooms), is that there is not a ventilation system or fan in any of them, and the (teeny tiny child-sized) sinks only have a cold water tap.

I’ve asked Justin how he pees in the shelf toilet without splashing himself and he just grunts at me, eyebrows furrowed, annoyed. Sometimes he tries to aim for the hole but otherwise, he’s in the splash zone.

The majority of the toilets we’ve encountered out and about do not have the inspection shelf. From what I understand, this is an older design no longer necessary in most first-world countries, and most of the Dutch toilets we’ve used have a regular bowl. The peculiar thing about their design, however, rests in the flush mechanism. American toilets all have a handle you use to flush – though I have seen some with the two buttons on top of the tank. All of the Dutch toilets have GIANT buttons in the walls above them. Why? Why are they separate from the toilets? How would you go about installing or replacing a toilet in your own home without calling a plumber? It just seems more complicated!

What’s your favorite or least favorite toilet design? Any funny European toilet stories? Share them with us using #BathroomsOfTheWorld! 

 

 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Cora Mulder says:

    Although I am not graduated on the subject of toilets and restrooms, I will try to reflect on the toilet topic.
    First of all, the so called poop shelf. Apparently indeed a strange thing.
    Let’s have a closer look. Since Europe – and The Netherlands are part of it- is the old world it means there is a lot of history and heritage to look back upon. One could say, “looking back” is part of our culture, our way of living, our identity. Things that past in our history make us feel proud. E.g. the Golden Age, Rembrandt, the resistance of the Dutch Republic against Spain. Later on Van Gogh, European Football Champion in 1988, and several times winner of the European Son contest. Looking back and being pride of what we made. It’s obvious why there is a shelf.

    The giant buttons are part of a design in which the toilets are ‘floating’ above the ground. That means that the floor of the restroom is easy to be cleaned. Only the seating part is floating and the reservoir, together with the construction for the floating seat, is hided in the wall. The button system is a smart system in which the amount of water can be regulated, depending on the amount of stuff you leave behind. That comes from a time that we were very keen on the use of the amount of water, mostly because of financial reasons. In the fifties and sixties people even used to put a brick in the hanging reservoirs so there was less water in it.

    Peeing while standing is becoming less regular because of the obvious reasons. In public so called urinoirs (Schiphol) for men there are small marks of flies made in the bowls. Men try to aim on the flies (we are hunters, aren’t we?) and less problems from splashing. I have solved the problem by not standing anymore while peeing but take a seat. It is a safe way of peeing that gives me a small opportunity for reflection. I can highly recommend this approach.

    To resume I must admit that I like the American way of flushing. It should be able to be combined with a floating seat, odor-disguising water and the adjusting buttons.
    But remember to take a seat every now and then, have your moments of reflection while looking back of what you have produced and where you come from.

    Hans van Oel

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  2. Ashley S says:

    Thanks for commenting!!!

    Looking up the history (as much as I could find) about the design of this toilet was FASCINATING. Apparently it’s very common in Germany and the Netherlands, though becoming less so in your home country. The original purpose makes total sense, especially in a world when parasites were normal and medicine wasn’t as prevalent. It’s just surprising to me that the design has stuck around all these years!

    I like the idea of a “floating” toilet, it is indeed much easier to clean the floor!, though I can’t help but wonder if the design would work in our country where we have so many very over-weight people…. what would happen if it came out of the wall?! Yikes!! (Have you ever heard of something like that happening??)

    Is the toilet tank IN the wall, behind the button? How do you repair it or replace it easily?

    Here’s another peculiarity my brother and dad mentioned to me about Dutch urinals: apparently, they are much higher than in other countries because Dutch people are so tall! My brother, who is 6’3, said it was great having urinals that were made for his height, whereas my dad had to stand on his tiptoes to pee! haha

    And I like your comment about reflecting back. I always want to know the WHY behind things, WHY we do things the way we do, WHY we continue to do them (if there’s a good reason for it, or if it’s just tradition or laziness or whatever), and WHY things change. And bathrooms are particularly interesting since they are a universal need yet SO so different all over the world. It’s interesting to see how different cultures adapted to our universal human problems.

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  3. Angela Surkau says:

    Hi Ashley,
    the house I grew up in in Germany was built in 1969 and back then it was normal to have toilets with a poop shelf – it is what I grew up with, and it was everywhere, something absolutely normal. And yes, I was taught to look at what I had produced 😉
    On modern “floating” (I like that term!) toilets in both Germany and the Netherlands the tank is indeed hidden in the wall behind the toilet, right behind the buttons. I guess this is more for aestatic reasons and to make cleaning easier, as you have an even, smooth surface by hiding the tank.
    People don’t tend to replace their toilets very often, or would only replace the part that is broken (which I suppose doesn’t happen that much, German engineering and all … 😉 ) so I don’t think that is an issue – at least it has never occured to me to be one.
    Germans want to save costs by saving water, and since the 1980s increasinly also save water because of the environment, so the two button system is very common nowadays. The toilets in my parents’ house still have tanks behind them (similar setup as in the States) but the flush handle has been adapted so that you can push it up to stop the flush and save water that way – also a very common adaption.
    Hope this provides a bit more of an enlightenment on German and Dutch toilet history and design.

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