Nieuws - 13 september 2001

The Dutch toilet: an analysis

The Dutch toilet: an analysis

The first encounter with a toilet in the Netherlands can come as a shock to visitors from abroad. The platform upon which the result of the digestive process lands is what shocks. The construction of the Dutch WC ensures that the smell of the product of human digestion spreads further and that the visitor to said place is confronted with his or her own 'end product'.

It is unclear why Dutch toilet engineers chose this form of construction. Psychoanalysts put it down to a mild form of collective anality among the Dutch population. Symptoms include retentiveness, strong will and loyalty on the one hand, but also compulsivity and a strong need to control. These anal characteristics are often accompanied by an above average interest in waste, decay and excrement.

Sounds convincing, but according to historians the psychoanalysts have got it wrong. Historians believe that the design of the Dutch toilet has more to do with the contribution of doctors to the public health and hygiene movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. At that time enlightened employers, church leaders and doctors took steps to improve the living conditions of the working class. The hygiene movement promoted rooms with daylight and ventilation, wider streets, garbage collection, sewerage, clean drinking water and the introduction of the toilet.

Nearly all countries in northwest Europe had a similar hygiene offensive. But nowhere was the role of doctors and the respect they commanded as big as in the Netherlands. Doctors were in favour of the idea of the Dutch people being able to examine their own faeces. Certainly in a time when many people still died of infectious diseases, excrement was considered a 'reflection of health', as one naturopath put it.

Should you be wondering about Dutch toilet etiquette, it is customary to ensure that, once you have flushed away the reflection of your health, the platform is left clean. In Dutch this is referred to as 'removing the skid marks'. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Dutch value their privacy: as far as they are concerned not everyone needs to know how healthy you are.

Willem Koert

... and further

Want more information on the ways of the Dutch to help you make more sense of your time here? Try a website geared towards expatriates working in the Netherlands and other European countries. The section Life in Holland has lots more funny stories.