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Den Utedo

Updated: 4 days ago

Den utedo! It sounds a bit mysterious and like it might be an event you'd want to be at. But the utedo is in fact the famous Norwegian outside toilet.

Throughout Norway, you'll find these cute little wooden buildings dotted around in the most convenient places for everyone to use.

disused outside toilet utedo norway
This disused utedo was once used for quarry workers at the top of a mountain

They are usually in places where running water and a sewage system are hard to find, like at a lake that's only accessible on foot, or a remote beach or even the top of a mountain. They are always composting toilets with no water added, just a hole in the ground that is moved after a few years to a new location. The utedo can vary from an almost luxurious affair with a new tiled floor and ultra modern toilet to the most basic of things with a simple dirt floor and wooden walls and a wooden seat. There is one thing that they all share, especially in the warmer months, and that is the unmissable smell of the outside loo!! But as you are out in the fresh air, it hardly seems to matter.

Usually made of wood the door of the utedo generally has a heart shape punched out of it, so if you are ever in desperate need of one and not sure whether you are looking at an utedo or simply a little storage shed, you don't need to worry. The heart shape on the door will give it away.

The history of the utedo is long and "(fairly) illustrious. Archaeological excavations in Norway have found utedo from medieval times. Often they were a very simple affair, but there are those with proper wooden seats with a hole in, much more comfortable than some of the more basic types that were just a pole over a hole in the ground!

By the 19th century, the utedo that we are more familiar with, in a building, became the norm across the whole of Norway, but in some parts in the north of the country it was still seen as an unnecessary luxury (can you imagine!).

Of course, the question of waste disposal was one that was always at the forefront. And so like in many parts of the Europe, the utedo was often placed over a stream, river, or the quay side. But this also provided important work in the matter of emptying (especially in town and cities). This kind of work was not of the most fragrant kind and so was done at night so as not to disturb the population too much! Hence the name for the person who emptied the utedoer was "nattmann" (nightman).

In the 1900s the utedo as pretty much the only sort of toilet you would find in Oslo (there were only 18 indoor toilets in the whole city). We can still find them even now, but of a much advanced type than you would have encountered in the 1900s!!

Norwegian outside toilet
Seemingly inaccessible places are where we find utedoer (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

In a country of so much wealth something like an utedo might seem an odd thing to find. But in rural areas they are still relatively common. With the right construction and system they rarely need emptying and many cabins still have a simple utedo with the traditional heart shape on the door (hjerterommet).

So next time you are in Norway, in the middle of nowhere and bizarrely there is a cute little cabin with a heart on the door, you will know that are in the presence of a piece of Norwegian cultral history that endures even in modern times and has saved many a desperate soul!

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