Using The Public Restroom In France - Avoid A Nasty Surprise!

toilettes publiques /

When you travel to France, one thing is certain, you'll have to use the restroom. Now how to politely ask where the toilets are is a delicate thing in French. Now that you've mastered the toilet related vocabulary, and the strange double flush tank, you are ready for your next challenge: using (and surviving) "Les toilettes publiques"!

In a small (or huge) town, using "les W.C" of a restaurant or a café should not be a problem. Just ask "où sont les toilettes s'il vous plaît", and you should be fine. But unless you are a patron, in many very touristic areas, you'll have to use the public restrooms - it may be worth buying "un café" even if you don't drink it so you can use the coffee's bathroom...

Some very old fashion public restrooms or very old fashion restaurant will have what we used to call "une dame pipi" (lit. 'a pee lady'... not very PC but that's how they are called, I really don't know any other name for that job, I actually even asked one who told me herself that was the only name she knew for her job until someone else told her she was called "agent d'entretien"- maintenance officer...) This person cleans and takes care of the place. You should leave her a tip (50 centimes or one Euro), it's customary.

"Les Urinoirs"(urinals) are still very common, and not so discreet in France. It's not uncommon in a public restroom to have a urinals section facing the closed toilets, so that when you enter/exit the restroom you will pass in front of peeing men... How nice...

More modern public restrooms will be some sort of a cabin (called " une sanisette") which opens up when you place a coin (they are free in Paris since 2006... and more or less dirty...and always lacking toilet paper, so plan on bringing tissues). The instructions are pretty clear, there are usually drawings etc... However, a Skype student of mine had an interesting story with one of these. He had to pay 1 Euro to get in. So, after he did his business, as he left and the door opened, he let his spouse in. And she got... a free shower! Some of these cabins get fully rinsed after each use, from top to bottom. So pay the extra 1 Euro...

And yes, it is still very true, many public restrooms (rarely in cities, but still frequently on the highway restrooms) are what we call "des toilettes à la turque", no seat but a hole. I hate these, as I'm pretty sure every other woman does. So basically, there is a hole, and two rectangles to place your feet supposedly out of the pee route. Face the door if you want to limit the damages. No, French women don't have a secret about using these. We are all created equal when it comes to using these awful devices. 

Last thing... The French are not really shy when it comes to peeing "al fresco" - outside! If you drive around France, you may sometimes see some car stopped on the side of the road, with a guy facing the fields and relieving himself... Well, at least he is not facing the road... Nothing shocking here for the French, it's only human nature!