The jury is still out on whether chivalry is dead, but urinal etiquette is undeniably alive and well.
In the course Introduction to Sociology, John Paul, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, begins the first class session with an exercise which he adapted from an Internet game known as “The Urinal Game.” On a white board, Paul draws a restroom doorway and three urinals, a typical American men’s room. He then tests the students’ knowledge of men’s room etiquette by presenting several scenarios and asking students to pick the correct urinal to use.
Paul said that the game opens the discussion to “broader issues of culture” and patterns of human behavior.
“It was really just a way to foster class discussion,” said Paul. “Something silly. Something kind of fun.”
“The Urinal Game” is based on the unwritten social code, understood by most American men, that a man must not appear to be initiating any contact while using the restroom. This includes physical proximity, eye contact and conversation.
If all three urinals are unoccupied, the correct answer is the urinal furthest from the door. If that urinal is occupied, the correct answer is the urinal closest to the door, leaving one unoccupied urinal as a buffer. If both of these urinals are occupied, a man must decide between using the buffer urinal, the stall or he can exit the restroom and come back later.
In 2006, Paul published an article detailing his teaching exercise in “The Electronic Journal of Sociology.” The article, titled “‘Flushing’ out sociology: using the Urinal Game and other bathroom customs to teach the sociological perspective,” garnered Paul some unexpected attention earlier this year.
This summer, Paul agreed to be interviewed by the BBC/Discovery Channel program “Weird Connections.” A film crew came to campus and interviewed Paul for about an hour. He expects the program to air in Britain in December or January, though he isn’t sure how much of his interview will be included.
The concept of unwritten rules between men entered into popular culture in recent years through a series of Miller Light beer commercials titled “Man Laws.” Each “Man Laws” commercial featured a panel of men, led by actor Burt Reynolds, discussing a given issue until they come to a consensus on a “Man Law.”
The commercials ended in 2007, but “Man Law” lives on. A Facebook group titled “Man Law” currently has more than 700,000 members and continues to grow. The group maintains a list of “Man Laws,” which currently has 103 laws. In the spirit of comedy, most of them pertain to beer, sports and relationships with women. However, some actually offer useful advice.
“Man law is a hilarious commentary on our society today,” said Phil Norris, senior sociology and anthropology major. Norris thinks that understanding the unspoken rules of male socialization are crucial in maintaining male friendships.
“It may be unspoken, but you don’t date your best friend’s ex-girlfriend,” said Norris.
Eric Budreau, freshman history and psychology major, describes “Man Law” as the “Golden Rule of men,” explaining that many of the laws are based on how most men want to be treated.
“Unless you’re on fire, I don’t want to be talked to while urinating,” said Budreau.
However, some men do admit that desperation warrants violating social norms.
“If I gotta go, I gotta go,” said Norris. “I like awkwardness.”