I don’t understand European bathrooms

Flooded street

Having just come back from two weeks in Europe (as part of my one new country per year challenge) I had a myriad of different experiences. Most of them were positive, though a few were unfortunate and of my own making.

But after having stayed in a handful of hotels and hostels, one question keeps coming to mind: who designs bathrooms in Europe, and why do they do it that way?

Exhibit A: Come see what I’m up to!

I stayed at a mid-range chain hotel when I was in Germany. It catered primarily to business travelers, and it being an American company, one could reasonably assume that the experience would be relatively familiar.

The room I was in had two single beds (a double single?) and was compact but sufficient, with a nice view of the Rhine. I had no disputes with the room whatsoever. It was clean and anonymous, just what I wanted.

The room
The room

And then there was the bathroom.

The bathroom was also reasonably sized, which one cannot always say in Europe. It contained a sink, a commode, and a combination bath and shower.

And it also contained a window which looked out on the rest of the room.

I stared at this for a long time, and I couldn’t think of a single reason why this bathroom would be designed this way. If it were a single bed, designed for one traveler or a couple, I could see how one wouldn’t desire privacy. But with two beds, one could assume that perhaps one of the occupants wouldn’t want to see what the other is up to.

And it wasn’t a small window either. It was full size. The window was partially frosted, but not to the extent that it left anything to the imagination. Why bother with it at all?

Bathroom window looking in

I asked the front desk woman if they had any rooms that didn’t have as much, ahem, display, and she said that they reserved some rooms for “Arabic” people, where the window was entirely frosted. (I am not making this up.)

For the rest of us (non-Arabic people), we get to watch our roommates do their business. Or just spend a lot of time looking out the window at the view.

Bathroom window looking out
Hello out there!

Exhibit B: Let’s soak the entire room!

A week or so later, I found myself at another midrange chain hotel in Belgium. I had managed to finagle an upgrade to a king suite (due to some parlaying of elite status between hotel chains) so the room I received was nothing short of enormous, even by American standards.

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Separate living room area
Separate living room area
Hallway to bedroom
Hallway to bedroom
Bed room
Bed room

The bathroom had not only a bathtub but also a separate shower area.

Giant bathroom
Giant bathroom

What is notable about the shower area is that there was no enclosure whatsoever. You just stood under the spray and let the water fly wherever it did.

I’ve never understood why enclosures are so rare in Europe. In small or cheap rooms, I could see leaving it out as an economy measure, but this room (if I had paid for it) would have been hundreds of euros. Surely they could afford a door, or at least a curtain.

The floor sloped down to a drain, so I figured that it was engineered in such a way as to not cause problems.

So when the time came to take a shower, I tried to stand right under the hose, so as to not exacerbate the water issue.

I wasn’t surprised to see water on the entire bathroom floor.

What I didn’t expect to see, though, is water flowing through the entire suite, from the bedroom all the way into the living room.

Room flood

I don’t know how I could have avoided this, short of, well, some kind of partition.

Should I have brought my own?

What am I missing?

These kinds of questions are not culturally insensitive, I don’t think. I understand squat toilets, and why not very place has toilet paper. I understand how to engage a bidet, and how and why Japanese-style toilets are the way they are.

But my situations just don’t make any sense to me.

Being forced to question basic tenets of our existence is one of the many benefits of traveling. And it just goes to show that this can happen even in the lowly bathroom.

What do you think? Why are these bathrooms arrayed the way they are? I’d love to hear your opinion.


  1. Jules

    Hold the shower head to rinse. Then turn it off when you’re not rinsing. Don’t stand under a steady stream of water. That could be done sitting in the tub for an even better effect.

    • Mike @ Unlikely Radical

      Hi Jules. You make it sound so easy! 🙂 Problem is that standing under a steady stream of water is kind of my definition of shower. I can’t be the only one.

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