I want to be relieved… of ambiguity.

Style at the sacrifice of clarity.

Often people wonder what we experience here in Singapore and how it compares to the States. Some things are the same as they would be anywhere else. Other times things are vastly different it’s hard to compare. And still other times things have similarities but are different enough that they are worth a blog post.

The last category applies to restrooms here in Singapore.

If I ask you to imagine what the standard symbol is for a public restroom, you can draw it to mind without any hesitation. There is no need for me to describe the symbol. You know what it looks like. And if I ask you the difference between female restrooms vs. male restrooms are, you could probably, with minimal skill, draw a rough outline of the symbols without too much difficulty.

So why then is it so hard for Singapore to catch onto this idea of a standard bathroom symbol?

Example 1: Where did the arms go?

Simplify. Clean lines means no arms.

I guess it’s more modern looking to simplify the figure. But wasn’t the standard already simple enough? It’s not like the standard has hands or facial features, but we still get the idea that it’s a human. These figures though???

At least it’s mostly straightforward and the symbols aren’t too different than what is expected… because no words are given to help you find your way.

Example 2: Practical or Posh?

Washrooms = Restrooms

Seriously? Sure it’s all fancy and posh… but is that extra finesse really necessary? I think not. Not only are the symbols odd… but the word isn’t even the typical word used to describe the restroom. These pictures just don’t conjure up, “Oh, there’s the bathroom!”It’s more of a, “oh…. I guess that is the washroom means bathroom???”

This particular example was taken from the building where we got our employment and dependent passes. That day I needed to use the restroom dearly. When you need to use the restroom that much, do you really want to spend the extra effort reading signs to make sure you’re headed to the right place???

Example(s) 3: Huh??? Come again?

This is by far my favorite example. It is simply dumbfounding.

These restrooms and their corresponding symbols can be found at the Clementi Mall which is a 10 minutes walk from our home. I go there multiple times every week to do my grocery shopping. So not only is this my favorite example of ambiguous bathroom symbols, but I also get to see it the most often.

First, this is what you see as you approach the restroom.

This way, please... to what?

The only thing that is obvious is that their is a something handicap to the right. (Why can’t the other symbols be as easy to decipher as the handicap picture?)

Andrew had the brilliant idea for me to use black and white to convey how confusing this bathroom is:

Can you guess whether this is the men's or women's restroom?

It is not readily obvious. Actually, it’s not obvious at all. It’s rather obscure.

Here is the men’s restroom – in color:

Men's in color.

Drum roll please. The women’s:

Women's in color.

So maybe the symbol for women has a more flared top half/shirt compared to the guy’s symbol. And maybe you can tell the two apart when looking at the colors and viewing it side by side.

But check out the close-up of the woman’s face.

I do believe that is a mustache!

The girl may have added lips to the picture, but they left the mustache on!!! What? Yeah – confused yet?

So if you were able to get the whole gender difference imparted by the two pictures as seen above, keep this in mind: You can not see both at once. And you have to go down a hallway and make a U-turn before you see the Womens’ bathroom.

Here’s what has invariably happened – some poor soul comes in a panic ready to release the contents of their bladder and stops short utterly confused at which restroom he/she is supposed to enter.

One of the first times went to this restroom, I waited outside while Andrew used the restroom. In the time that I waited for him I counted 3 separate instances where people were confused and not sure how to proceed. I have seen a man enter the women’s bathroom (maybe he saw the mustache) … and quickly exit.

I have also seen men walk by the men’s sure it’s not the right one. They proceed to the women’s stare at it. Turn around and walk to the men’s again. Stare at the men’s before proceeding in.

Or today’s instance. A couple walks up to the bathroom. They stare at the men’s restroom. The guy shrugs, tells his girlfriend, “I don’t know.” He then indicates she should try going around the corner.

What is insane to me is that I have not been to this restroom once without seeing a person pause or proceed with a bewildered look on their face.

And WHY!???

Is it more cool and hip? Is it the new dude and dudette on the block? Is it supposed to match the mall’s bubble decor? I don’t know. And I don’t care.

This is just wrong.

The quote from Remember the Titans comes to mind.

“Does the term cruel and unusual punishment mean anything to you!?”

If it didn’t before, it should now.

The simple things in life… Next time you use the public restroom be thankful that the USA uses a fairly uniform method of notifying you of the gendered roles of the bathrooms.



Here’s another bathroom I saw recently.

Yet another ladies' restroom

While this one may not be as ambiguous… the menacing look of the “lady” does not exactly make me feel relieved as I walk into the bathroom!


6 responses to “I want to be relieved… of ambiguity.

  1. The only thing worse… is NO symbols at all. Occasionally in Japan there wouldn’t be symbols, and sometimes they would have different Kanji than the man/woman ones I had memorized. Once I made the mistake of going in the male onsen at a ryokan. SOOOO thankful no one else came in – didn’t notice my mistake until the next day when I found the female onsen. Oops! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Maia – I hadn’t thought about that. That’s very true. I am glad that they have symbols at all 😀

  4. Loved this! Sounds really funny! But Its amazing that people here in America “cough” AACC*cough*…mix up the bathroomstoo, I would love to see what they would do at those bathrooms! hahaha

  5. Pingback: SG Bathroom Saga – continued | Randles like Candles

  6. Pingback: Adventure, Anger, and Relief | Randles like Candles

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