Everyday rudeness #3: Not flushing

Many years ago, in a first-year Introduction to Sociology course, I learned about “cultural universals.” These were the relatively rare social customs that every people in the world, at all times, have respected. Usually they were taboos grounded in some biological imperative. Incest, for example, isn’t good for evolution as it restricts the gene pool. Avoiding coming into contact with excrement, another universal, is basic hygiene, as it cuts down on the spread of disease.

Well, some people never got the memo. Have you had to use a public washroom lately? Why is it that roughly a third of all the toilets in any given public washroom are full of shit or piss? I’m willing to bet they aren’t broken. And yet what could be easier, or, one would have thought, more natural and automatic, than to flush after using them? I’m sure none of the people doing this would leave the toilets in their house full of feces. Why do they think it’s OK to do it in public? Is this the tragedy of the commons?

It’s not just something that happens in the washrooms in bus terminals either. I remember a few summers ago finding the same proportion of toilets in the local university’s library had been left filled. And the reason I’m writing this post is because just this week when I went to use the washroom at my gym, which is a fairly upscale establishment, I found someone had not only left the bowl filled with pee, but, for good measure, had left the seat down and pissed all over that as well.

Why? As I say, flushing should be automatic. Toilet training is a cultural universal, and you do it so many times every day you’d have to make a conscious effort not to flush. And yet many people, not a majority by any means but a lot, simply walk away. Are they marking their territory? Trying to be funny? Or just being rude?

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