Oh, those crazy Germans!

Visiting the men’s room at the Munich airport, I saw what looked like a fly in the bowl.  Then I realized that all the bowls had flies—realistic looking flies painted on the porcelain.

I’ve heard about this before, and the apocryphal explanation is that you’re supposed to aim at the fly. I have no idea whether this is true, but below you see what males confront  when nature calls at Flughafen München:


Enlarging this, one sees a fine specimen of Musca domestica:


Needless to say, I had to wait until the men’s room emptied before taking these pictures!

Another striking feature of this restroom is that each urinal is separated from the others by partitions, presumably to allow you some privacy while your paternal apparatus is in use:



  1. Don
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    A target–great idea. Until a real fly lands on the edge of the bowl.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink


    • David Duncan
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink


  2. neil
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    i have a vague idea that i’ve seen this sort of thing on Victorian urinals, but isn’t it supposed to be a bee, for the pun on Apis?

  3. Howard Replogle
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I read years ago that these fly images make for much cleaner restrooms. If you give a man a better target, he’s less likely to miss. It was supposedly proven.

    • Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I also understand this is to be true, according to my readings.

    • Marcel Volker
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Same here. I support the ‘proven’ claim.

      I even recall, from the depths of memory (which may be false) the popular-scientific reporting of the finding, followed by the announcement that in the future, fake flies would be added to urinals for aiming.

      They are common throughout North-Western Europe.

  4. Alex Shuffell
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I was in a nice hotel in Amsterdam, they had the flies in the same place there. They’ve been spotted in airport urinals all over the world.

    Apparently it reduces mess up to 80%, which is an impressive claim, but I can’t find where they got this number from. Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence.

    I had fun when I met my first fly. I’m kind of jealous now. If women don’t want to feel left out they could always invest in a she-wee.

  5. Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    New Scientist ran an article on this recently – I guess it’s called “nudge” theory. Most of it is behind the paywall, unfortunately.

    The fly thing started in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (so it’s those crazy Dutch, in fact):

    “DID you hear the one about the flies in the toilet? They took off, flew round the world, and started a revolution.

    It was 1999, and the authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam were looking to cut costs. One of the most expensive jobs was keeping the floor of the men’s toilet clean. The obvious solution would have been to post signs politely reminding men not to pee on the floor. But economist Aad Kieboom had an idea: etch a picture of a fly into each urinal. When they tried it, the cleaning bill reportedly fell 80 per cent.”


    • Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Cheers for setting the record straight. Germans do have a lot to account for, but this!

      Fans of flies (are there any around this website?): Do not miss out on Amsterdam’s panoramas at


      although how they are supposed to improve the aim remains a mystery.

      Oh, and if you need some flies for home, there’s always


      – check out the accessories by the stickers…

      • JBlilie
        Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        “how they are supposed to improve the aim remains a mystery”

        Men are all really still 12-years old (speaking as one): It gives them motivation! They want to knock that fly into the water!

        It’s like aiming a machine gun: Move the stream to the target.

        • Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

          I was talking about those Amsterdam panoramas. Did you have a look?

  6. Stephen P
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Yes, that’s the reason. The idea was thought up in Holland (I believe at Schiphol airport) and I remember that reason being given when they were first introduced.

    • Stephen P
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Ha – just beaten to it!

  7. darrelle
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    One of my more uncomfortable public bathroom experiences occurred in the bathroom of a huge shopping mall in Canada. The bathroom was large, bright, meticulously clean and well appointed, except for one thing. There were exactly zero partitions. It was wide open, with seating for 8 to 10 on one wall with urinals opposite.

    It took me several minutes to convince myself that this was the way it was intended to be, and that I really couldn’t wait in hopes of finding something a little more private.

    I’ve never considered myself particularly squeamish or prudish but I have a distinct lack of desire to inflict my solid waste disposal activities on others, and vice versa.

    Oh, love the fly.

    • Howard Replogle
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I was sent to a military high school in New Mexico in 1964. We had no private bathrooms and no partitions between long lines of toilets. I had no choice so I adapted. But even after two years there, I never really got used to it.

    • David Duncan
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      I remember seeing a WWII movie where a senior officer was inspecting the latrines. There were no partitions, and when the officer entered the bathroom the guy showing him around pushed a button and all the seats/lids, um, erected to 45 degrees in unison, as though saluting the officer.

      I was amused, but completely appalled at the idea of not having privacy when having a crap. I couldn’t care less about partitions when having a pee, but excrement is different. I neither want to see or be seen.

      • Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        “No Time For Sargents” with Andy Griffith:

        Here is the salute on YouTube:

        When I first read about this “fly in the toilet ” phenomenon, it was apparently not just a picture, but an actual porcelain fly molded in to the bowl. No doubt, that proved too expensive, so now just the image.

        • David Duncan
          Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          Ah, thanks! 🙂

  8. Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    The story about the Schipol airport is allegedly true. The inventor was invited in NY to export the idea to JFK, but after a visit resigned: “Who in his right mind would aim at a fake fly when he could piss on a real roach?”

    • Jarek
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

      Who in his right mind would aim at a fly or roach? Didn’t they hear about golden rule or ahimsa?

  9. Marta
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m a frequent visitor to men’s rooms, being as how I’m stupendously non-observant about what it says on the front door of the establishment when I’m opening the door.

    My first and constant question is why men aren’t entitled to some privacy when they’re using a urinal?

    My new question is: why is it necessary that there’s a target in the urinal anyway? Is it that hard to aim your, uh, “paternal apparatus”?

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      “My first and constant question is why men aren’t entitled to some privacy when they’re using a urinal?”

      Seems to be almost a matter of machismo in the US. I’ve had boyfriends admit to having paruresis…sometimes to the extent of using the stalls only.

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Aim: It’s not aim — it’s motivation. Knock that fly down!

      Some urinal rows have partitions, some don’t. It comes from the whole locker-room thing. Guys are supposed to be unaffected by seeing other guys bits.

      • Marta
        Posted September 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Maybe it’s about being affected by other people’s bits, but I’m guessing it’s cheaper and more efficient–to say nothing about faster if there’s a lot of demand at a time– to build men’s rooms without urinal partitions. But also, too, maybe there are social penalties for men who state their discomfort with the lack of privacy, so they don’t, so men’s rooms continue to be built in the same semi-dehumanizing way?

        What the hell do I know?

      • Posted September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        I dunno… there is the phenomenon among men called the ‘bashful kidney’, where one can not pee when standing right next to someone else.

        • pacopicopiedra
          Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          I’ve always heard it called “stage fright.” I’ve got a pretty bad case myself. It sucks.

      • David Duncan
        Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        I’m indifferent to urinal partitions, I don’t try to see other guy’s equipment – I wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea! and don’t care what they can see. Perhaps he partitions are to avoid accidental splashes.

    • David Duncan
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never understood why guys would care about privacy when having a pee. When I was a kid my (male) friends and I would have a pee without being discreet about it. I’ve seen partitions in urinals but only rarely.

      • Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        The phenomenon is called “Shy Bladder”. If someone is watching, you simply cannot relax. Nothing to do with your equipment being observed.

        I had Shy Bladder as a kid. Later on, I found I invariably had to pee while perusing the stacks in the library, while saying the book’s Dewey Decimal number (“TCU 387.1, ….TCU 387.1”). I turned that phenomenon into a way to mentally chant a mantra while standing at the urinal, so that I could relax the muscles.

        • David Duncan
          Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          It doesn’t happen to me because I’ve never noticed anyone else looking, and I’m not interested in looking myself. Been to sporting events where it’s shoulder to shoulder at the urinals with five guys behind me. Has no effect.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Just because you’ve never understood it doesn’t mean it’s not an issue for other guys.

        • David Duncan
          Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I know. Some of the guys I work with use cubicals to pee – not shutting the door. I couldn’t be bothered. Occasionally I’ve heard women in the gents room, mainly teenage girls who don’t want to wait in line.

    • David Duncan
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      ‘Is it that hard to aim your, uh, “paternal apparatus”?’

      As a Y chromosome challenged person I’ll tell you that even with the best of intentions people of the XY persuasion don’t always get their aim right. The relevant piece of plumbing really does have a mind of it’s own. 🙂

    • TomZ
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I take you’ve never been to the men’s room at Wrigley field?

      GIS Wrigley urinal troughs.

      It’s … enlightening.

  10. Hempenstein
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Yes, first saw that yrs ago @ Schiphol, altho theirs is a different style. I remember reading a number of yrs later in the center column of the Wall St Jrnl that they were going to use them in a new part of JFK as an aid to upkeep/sanitation. The guy who was responsible for the original installation commented that “It helps to focus peoples minds.”

    And for a worldwide compendium of urinals: http://www.urinal.net They take submissions, but check first – your favorite one may already be there. Here’s one we’ve seen before.

    • carbon dated
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Yep, they use the fly at JFK. I noticed it last weekend.

  11. FloM
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    you haven’t seen the ones with a little football (soccer) goal in them, have you. And you were lucky there were partitions (I realise that Americans are not big on toilet partitions and believe in saloon doors). I wonder what your neighbours would have otherwise thought of a guy flashing a camera around the urinals….

    • David Duncan
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Are you accusing Jerry of being a flasher? 🙂

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      Yep, I’ve seen them in several places. Hilarious.

  12. alexandra moffat
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Aim Art!

  13. joao romulo baptista e costa
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Saw some of these at Panamá city international AirPort

    Enviado via iPhone

  14. Michael Day
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Things can get really messy when the fly takes flight…

  15. Trevor
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Urinal flies can be found in the St. Louis, Missouri airport too.

  16. Nwalsh
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Partitions at urinals is pretty well the ‘norm’ in Canada. Partitioning (cubicles) for the other goes without saying.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      Wish it was the norm here (NZ) but regrettably it isn’t. I find it bizarre that the architects of these things have ensured that I can’t use them without waving my magic wand around in public for the amusement of the stranger / exhibitionist / pervert standing two feet away, while simultaneously giving me the unwelcome opportunity to inspect his; yet should you desperately need to find a secluded corner in a back alley, the police in some jurisdictions may well arrest you for indecent exposure and even put you on the sex offenders register. I can think of no logical explanation for this state of affairs.

  17. Richard Olson
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Paruresis. That’s what I suffered that 100 degree day during the 5th inning at a urinal 20 guys wide with a 5 man line behind each fellow trying to go, while the guy with firehose pressure adjacent to my hip pocket spattered both his immediate neighbors from rib cage to knees.

    When I looked up that word, I learned that a net counseling site exists specifically for this condition. Just have a complex math problem ready to hand for public toilet visits, guys, and get to work on it as you unzip. This will focus your mind on something other than that pernicious self-esteem problem you have.

    Or just be grateful you aren’t experiencing a bout with humiliating parcopresis right about then. Unless, of course, you are seated on a porcelain bowl in a men’s room and there are no partitions or doors, and you can’t make a move, so to speak.

    Two new words for me today.

    • Graham Lyons
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Alpha males like to mark their territory; omega males don’t want to mark a possibly aggressive alpha’s territory.

      • Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        I guess that means I’m more of an Alpha male–I know I’ve always thought so, but no one else does ;). In any case, I feel really bad for someone with a “shy bladder” who goes to certain sports and/or rock concert venues: I’ve been to some such places where one pees into communal troughs. It’s much more efficient than having individual urinals, but it must be mortifying for those who are shy in such a manner…especially since those occasions tend not only to have hundreds of men in a restroom at a time, but one also frequently sees some women coming in to use the stalls (the lines at the ladies’ room are, of course, mind-boggling at these events).

  18. Bob Carlson
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    The idea of having a target reminds me of the sign I saw over the urinal in a Montana gas station or restaurant 51 years ago: “We aim to please. You aim too, please.”

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Or in one of the toilets in my building (it only lasted for a few days, “Please keep all bodily fluids in the appropriate receptical.”

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Did you hear about the two flies having an argument on the toilet seat?
    One of the got really p-ssed off.
    The other one got a little flushed.

  20. Dave
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the fly is there to remind the very weary, very jet-lagged traveler to open same before using.

    And I’d guess the partitions are there as splash guards, not necessarily for privacy. Don’t believe that? Go inspect a restroom where they’ve been installed for a few years and you’ll see they are … functional.

    • Dave
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Of course, that was a very English chauvinist remark!

  21. Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    This “aiming” issue may be more than it appears, when you consider the phenomenon of some drivers hitting patrol cars with flashing lights, parked on the shoulder of the highway.

    Somehow, subconsciously, drivers veer toward the lights, even as they consciously attempt to avoid the parked vehicle.

  22. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Whatever works. When I was a student I had to clean bathrooms in a campground. The men’s room was disgusting & often I would ask if someone was in there, no one would answer and some dude would be weeing. This was on purpose because it was some sort of pervy thrill to trick the 20 year old girl into entering the bathroom when the guy was weeing.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      I worked at a large grocery store for a bit while going to University. Cleaning the public bathrooms was a hated job, of course, that all back room employees took turns at.

      Now, I have no idea if this is representative of human poplulations in general, but the Women’s bathroom was an order of magnitude more disgusting than the Men’s. No contest, not even close. I remember this well because it was a great surprise to me, and was exactly the opposite of my expectations.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        That’s unusual. It’s my experience that the men’s is always way worse. Even at work, men complain that the washroom is disgusting. I suspect that this is because it only takes one.

  23. Hot Jam
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Not only are the flies 20 years old…,

    This is entirely NEW!!!

  24. Allautin@gmail.com
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Well if they have these in the toilet bowl then when you go to take a dump you can truly say you are going to do so with a fly by the seat of your pants


  25. Posted September 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    You can enjoy these in Seattle too! Sea-Tac airport urinals have a nice little blue spiral to aim at.

  26. boggy
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    I think this idea has existed since Victorian times, but instead of a fly the insect was a bee (Apis mellifica). The genus name explains.

  27. Posted September 20, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    It is evident from Professor Ceiling-Cat’s journey, and his pleasing photos of food prices at the sausage-counters, cats, and people at the market, that the good Ceiling-Cat puts great value in observation. Most people would have glanced as the priced sausages behind a glass counter, or the fly in the loo (English) and not had a second thought.
    But Ceiling-Cat sees more. He sees significance where most people move along. He takes photos. His many observations of the world fleeting and easily dismissed as trivial, then become a focus of reflection.

    I have no doubt that both Darwin and Russel Wallace voyaged around the world driven by curiosity rather than larded with biblical assumptions about the nature of reality. Imagine pondering upon the differing beaks of finches! Only one person in a million would have derived complex information from such a common observation. And such an appetite for reflecting upon the mundane and unremarkable, and squeezing fresh thoughts from things so easily overlooked, seems to be from the creative part of the brain.

    My wife, who is a landscape painter, takes photos wherever we go here in Burgundy; often bizarre and unexpected photos, that make me feel that I just wasn’t there! Why did I miss all those things she saw? Not for her the obvious landscapes; the children playing, the boats on the river. She photographs the peeling paint on an old rowboat; the greening brass door knocker; and once, an old lady sitting on her front steps skinning a rabbit! Why did I miss it all?
    It was said that the British Lakeland poet, William Wordworth, often wrote about the observations by his sister, Dorothy (who kept great diaries) It seems they were out for a walk in spring, and she noticed the lakeside daffodils, dancing in the breeze, and some laying upon the rocks as if for rest. It’s in her diaries. But it was her brother who turned her observations into the most famous lyrical poem of that age, called ‘Daffodils’.
    Observation, and its afterthoughts is usually overlooked by teachers, who are sold upon the idea that we have solid and unchangeable body of knowledge to learn by heart. It is my observation that all school and college knowledge has a half-life of about 50 years. Knowledge is fleeting but observation is eternal. And that is what it is to be human!

  28. Dominic
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Fascinated by the way continental loos have a ‘shelf’ for the feaces to fall onto before flushing. My theory is not that it is to avoid a back-splash for poo falling into the water, but rather because of the ancient practise of examining stools to make assessments of a person’s health!

  29. Marcel Volker
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Also, if you like the very spacious and separate urinals in Munich, you should LOVE the urinals in London Gatwick Airport.

    Not just very wide and very separate, but also with each having its own basin and hand drier.

  30. James C. Trager
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Once, behind a bar in Belize, I visited the urinal, which was structured more like a narrow bathtub (no dividers). On the wall as one faced this receptacle was a sign no doubt meant to lead users to the the same end as the fly decals:
    If your pecker is short,
    or your pressure is low,
    draw near, don’t piss on the flo’.

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