Waiter, what’s this fly doing… ?

Once on a business trip from Boston to Stockholm, I had a brief morning layover in Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport after an all-night flight over the Atlantic. Bleary-eyed and sleep-greasy, I stepped into the men’s lounge to freshen up a bit and lounge. While I was in the process of lounging, I was surprised to see a fly in the urinal. Actually it was a picture of a fly in the bottom of each of the urinals. There was something oddly amusing about this. Why would they put a fly there? Of course, human nature being what it is (okay, man nature being what it is) I couldn’t stop myself from leaning in that direction. Hey, that fly was looking for trouble.

The Dutch are the most sensible, straightforward people in the world. There must be some reason for this display, and it must have to do with its magnetic attraction on nearby downpours. I thought about taking a picture of the urinal… but didn’t. And I have since regretted not taking that picture, because it’s a funny little story.

Still, if the 21st century has taught us anything so far, it’s that you can find anything on the web. So it is with the Fly UI. This link is to a weblog that looks at the urinal’s design from a user interface point of view, and includes the feedback of several honest-to-goodness Dutch industrial designers.

As long as we’re on this subject, I have to mention the mysterious pre-flushing Japanese urinals. Japan, like many other countries, has lots of infra-red triggered self-flushing urinals. No need to touch the hardware… do your business and walk away. But I noticed that many of these automatic urinals in Tokyo flushed briefly just as you stepped up and got comfortable. I couldn’t figure out why they’d waste the water until I realized it subtly encouraged the priming of the pump. The little splash and whoosh gets the ball rolling sooner (à la Pavlov), fights stage fright in a self-conscious country, and probably increases crowded bathroom throughput by 25%. That’s my theory, anyway. Anybody out there know better?

4 thoughts on “Waiter, what’s this fly doing… ?”

  1. You are right on the money. That is the reason-as I was told in Japan-they give a little flush first. Interestingly, the women’s toilets (I am told) have a little button that, when pressed, makes a simulated flushing sound. This is to hide the noise that may or may not accompany a toilet visit thereby preserving one’s dignity. On a side note, the toilets in the Utano Youth Hostal in West Kyoto have heated seats! That would be a good purchase for anyone.


  2. I swear i read somewhere that the artificial fly was placed in the urinals to keep the floors free of errant urine. That is to say, men will aim for the fly, thereby keeping the urine safe within the confines of the urianl and not all over the floor, wall,neighbor’s pant leg,etc.

    Or maybe they put it there for all the visitors who made the trip to the Melkweg,Bulldog or Happy Family…Imagine their (fright,joy,stupefication) at not being able to dismiss the fly with a well-placed shot!

  3. In the days when urinals were huge shoulder high slabs of porcelain with a gulley at the foot, one British urinal manufacturer had a picture of a bee [apis mellifera] for the user to aim at. This reduced splashback apparently.

  4. I got an email from a Danish read who says that there are faux flies in the Copenhagen bathrooms as well. And he says that Danish brewer Carlsberg takes it up a step: they make urinals with soccer goals and little soccer balls. I believe these are still just pictures, but imagine if you could play an actual foosball-like game… there’d probably be lines for the men’s room just like there are for the women’s room now. There’s a whole industry waiting to be born: sports, musical instruments, painting, all humbly mounted on water closet porcelain. Who will be the first pissoir Renoir?

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