‘Toilet signs for ladies and gentlemen. Which symbol?’

A foreign tourist coming to Poland may be a bit surprised when heading to the restroom in a restaurant or club. The symbols for the women’s and men’s toilets in the form of a cross and a circle are quite unique to our region of the world. Even Poles often don’t know which door is meant for them in such a situation…

In most countries around the world, simple and understandable pictograms are used to indicate the women’s and men’s toilets. Of course, I’m talking about the visual representation of a woman in a skirt and a man… well, without one (it can be assumed that it’s a figure in pants).


However, in Poland and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, we often come across toilet signs in the form of a circle and a cross. This can be confusing – which door should we go to in such a situation? In short: the circle represents the women’s toilet, and the triangle represents the men’s toilet.


Where did the custom of marking toilets in this way come from? The answer to this question can be found in astrology, and the origins of this story date back to ancient Rome. The circle with a cross at the base represents Venus – the Roman goddess of love, who symbolizes the feminine element. This symbol has been simplified in our times to just a circle. On the other hand, the symbol of masculinity is a circle with an arrow ending in a triangle – this represents the sign of the war god Mars. Here again, the sign has been simplified, this time by excluding the circle and arrow and leaving only the triangle.


The use of circles and triangles to designate toilets is not clear enough for people from our region, let alone for foreigners. Therefore, we will encounter such symbols in public places less and less. This is also related to the activities of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It promotes the introduction of common standards in various areas of life in all countries around the world.


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