How to Ask Where the Restroom Is in French, Without Making a Faux Pas

Careful! You can commit a faux pas if you don't use the right words.

Interior Of Empty Public Restroom
Sebastian Kopp / EyeEm / Getty Images

Ah la la, this is always a difficult question. Because on top of possibly sounding impolite in French, you could also end up sounding totally ridiculous.

If you want to ask, "Where is the bathroom," and you go for a literal translation, you'd ask, "Où est la salle de bains"? The problem is la salle de bains is the room where the bath or shower is. Often the toilet is in a separate room. Imagine the puzzled look on your French hosts when they try to figure out why on earth you want to take a shower in their home.

Ideally, if things are done properly, your hosts should have discreetly pointed out the bathroom after they took your coat and guided you into the house.

'Où Sont les Toilettes, S’il te Plaît?'

But if that didn't happen, the correct question would be, "Où sont les toilettes, s’il te plaît?" if you are saying tu to your host. Note that the term les toilettes referring to the bathroom is always plural. You may also use the word les cabinets. If you do, you'd say, "Où sont les cabinets, s'il te plaît," but it's a bit old-fashioned.

If the evening is super formal, you may say something like, "Où puis-je me rafraîchir?" (Where may I freshen up?), but talking like that is quite snobbish. And anyway, everybody knows where you're going and what you'll be doing once you get there.

Also remember that we never say, “Take your time” in this kind of situation, which always makes me laugh. 

At a Dinner Party, Be Discreet

If you've gone to this house for a dinner party, keep in mind that you are not supposed to leave the dinner table...and dinner may last for hours.

If you absolutely have to use the bathroom, time your exit well, for example, not just before a new course is brought in. It could be at the end of a course, since the French don't remove the empty plates right away; just leave the table as discreetly as you can. You may say a soft, “Veuillez m’excuser” ("Please excuse me"), but it's not at all necessary.

And by all means, don’t say where you're going: Everybody knows.

At a Restaurant or Café, Be Polite and Use 'Vous'

If you're in a restaurant or a café, it's the same question. You will, of course, be using vous: Où sont les toilettes, s'il vous plaît? In big cities, you often need to be a customer to use the restroom. Honestly, I've never had a problem with this.

If it's a big Parisian café with a terrace, I doubt they know the face of all their customers, so I walk in, look for the signs, and just go in. If it's a smaller place, I smile a lot and politely say: '"Excusez moi. Je suis vraiment désolée, mais est-ce que je peux utiliser vos toilettes, s'il vous plaît?" Only in a very touristic place would you have a problem. Then, either order and pay for a coffee at the bar (even if you don't drink it), or go to the nearest public toilets.

To navigate the niceties of French toilets, you'll need truly useful toilet vocabulary, and you'll need to learn how French toilets work. For instance, do you know what those weird buttons are on a French toilet? And make sure you learn all you can about using a public toilet in France to avoid a nasty surprise!

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Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "How to Ask Where the Restroom Is in French, Without Making a Faux Pas." ThoughtCo, Oct. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/ask-for-bathroom-politely-in-french-1368018. Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. (2017, October 12). How to Ask Where the Restroom Is in French, Without Making a Faux Pas. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ask-for-bathroom-politely-in-french-1368018 Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "How to Ask Where the Restroom Is in French, Without Making a Faux Pas." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ask-for-bathroom-politely-in-french-1368018 (accessed November 23, 2017).