Worldcon Oddity: Peeing in Helsinki

Every worldcon I’ve been to in recent years has had its own oddities. In Spokane, it was four days of breathing smoke from wildfires on the US/Canadian border. In London, it was staying an hour from the con on a cramped sailboat that had been misleadingly billed on Airbnb as a houseboat. Also, there was Wardrobe Malfunction Day, when my belt broke and I walked around the convention center holding my pants up with both hands.

In Helsinki, it was peeing in the convention center restrooms. The urinals looked perfectly normal, but there was nothing to warn you that they flushed automatically both before and after use. So you would step up to the fixture and before you could even reach to do what you had come to do—floosh!—the thing would flush energetically in your face. (It didn’t spray literally in your face, but it felt as though it was about to.) Granted, it fit with the image of Scandinavian cleanliness, but it was certainly disconcerting.

Startling, too, was the high-speed hand-dryer mounted next to one sink, so close that when you stepped up to wash your hands, you got an instant blast of hot air on your left shoulder.

Perhaps weirdest were the urinals in one restaurant, which apparently had been installed by a very tall Viking plumber—because they were mounted too high on the wall for a person of mere modest height like me to use. I briefly contemplated ballistic trajectories of peeing upward and outward and hoping for the best, but I finally opted to choose other means. I’m sure the janitorial staff thanked me.

We now return you to our regular non-weird programming.


About Jeffrey A. Carver

Jeffrey A. Carver grew up on the Lake Erie shores of Huron, Ohio, but eventually settled in the Boston area, where he lives with his family. Currently he's writing a new volume in his popular series The Chaos Chronicles. Another of his favorite places to spin tales is his Star Rigger universe; one story in that world, Eternity's End, was a finalist for the Nebula Award. Among his stand-alone works are The Rapture Effect, and Battlestar Galactica, a novelization of the SciFi Channel's miniseries. By many accounts, his work is hard science fiction, but his greatest love remains character, story, and a healthy sense of wonder. His short work is collected in Going Alien and Reality and Other Fictions. As a teacher, Carver once hosted an educational TV series on the writing of SF and fantasy. A course that grew out of that is online, free to all, at In person, he's taught at MIT, Odyssey, and the New England Young Writer's Conference; and he is cofounder of the Ultimate SF Writing Workshop, in the Boston area. Visit his website and blog to learn more about his work.


Worldcon Oddity: Peeing in Helsinki — 5 Comments

  1. See, these are boy problems of which I was completely unaware. Other than reminding myself which button to push (low flow for liquids, high flow for solids) my restroom experience in Helsinki was pretty much exactly like it is at home. If you hadn’t shared this, I would never have known about the flush-before-flush-after phenomenon, which is fascinating. Like: Why?

    I will note, however, that the women’s toilets at the Helsinki airport have birdsong piped in, which is immensely soothing after a long flight.

    • Yeh, I’m not sure that singing birds would, erm, fly in the men’s room.

      (Just a little east(ish) coast humour there—not sure how well it translates the further south one goes…)

  2. Why did I not know about those male toilets? I hung out a lot in the volunteer lounge, making coffee for people, and heard many many interesting things… but not this.

  3. Thanks, Jeffrey, for this information! And bummer about the Air BNB trickery. Thor and I had a similar bad experience in London with a “charming loft apartment” that turned out to be a nightmare, not cleaned, bathroom not functional. We left and got a hotel room, luckily finding one nearby. Air BNB did refund our money, and the other ones we stayed in around England were lovely.