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Les Toilettes Parisiennes: What to Know Before You Go

Leo Reynolds

First, the good news. Bathrooms in Paris are much better than they used to be. While it’s still possible to encounter the occasional Turkish toilet (essentially a flushable hole in a floor), they’re not the ubiquitous hazards they once were. A loo that sports a turque screams outdated (not to mention perilous, especially for us girls) and most respectable establishments have graciously updated their facilities. Merci.

belboo

That said, French potty perils abound. So, we’ve put together this simple guide to help you navigate the waters of les toilettes Parisiennes. As they say, courage.

eatmorechips

Les pissoirs. Call me crazy but the sight of a strange man engaged in the (to me, private) act of relieving himself just feels wrong. I’m not all that anxious to observe my husband in the restroom; why would I want to see a stranger? But in Paris, it’s unavoidable.

designwallah & c-reel

Like the time I sauntered innocently into a toilette only to come face to face (or face to back, as luck would have it) with not one but two gentlemen, standing at urinals, taking care of their business. A tiny cry escaped my lips before I spun on my heel to make a quick exit. The sound of their laughter followed me out the door. My bad? Not at all; the urinals were right out in the open.

alainalele

Hommes, Femmes…Les deux? One for boys, one for girls. Simple, right? Ah, non. As I learned the hard way, les WCs – although not the urinals – are often shared. A nod to their decidedly non-puritanical ways? A way to save space? Probably both so don’t be alarmed to discover members of the opposite sex sharing toilets (hopefully not at the same time), sinks, hand soap (bonus!) and towels or dryers.

dwward & gillesklein

La lumière. Ever tried to go to the bathroom in the dark? Not fun and not easy, either. Many Parisian toilettes will leave you blindly patting down the walls in the pitch black when the light timer runs out. (Eco-friendly, yes. User-friendly? Not so much.) Let your eyes adjust and you’ll usually be able to find a dimly glowing light on the requisite switch. And here’s another trick: You will often need to enter a dark stall and firmly bolt the door before the light will come on. I suspect this is actually the French way of messing with tourists (how long will eet take ‘er to figure out zee lights??). Alas, I cannot prove this.

Romain LefortSiadhal

Ou sont les toilettes? As anyone who has been to a Parisian cafe can attest, the WC is almost always either upstairs or down. In fact, you often won’t even need to ask about its location (a vaguely distasteful question – “restroom” sounds so much nicer), and only need follow the stairs to discover the loo.

gail m tang

Water, water, where art thou? You’ve done your business in relative privacy and need only to wash your hands. Simple enough. But wait, that’s odd. How do I turn on the water? Don’t see a knob or even a motion sensor? Never fear. It’s probably hiding in one of two places. Look down. See a handle protruding from the base of the sink? Bingo. No? How about a pedal at the base of the vanity? Voila! Press and go. Hoping for a dryer or hand towel were you? Oh you greedy Anglo, you.

Useful links:

  • Find the nearest public toilet in Paris, right here!
  • Download this app and find the public toilets simple in your phone

Related links:

  • Secrets of Paris helps you find a toilet close by Carrousel du Louvre
  • Prêt à Voyager discovers the unglamorous side of Paris – the public toilets
  • Want to find a clean and nice public toilet? I Prefer Paris has a few tips for you!

Written by Paige Bradley Frost for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Paige Bradley Frost

Paige Bradley FrostPaige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on NYTimes.com, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at http://parisdejavu.blogspot.com.

Website: Paris Deja Vu

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Posted in Parisian Living | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Les Toilettes Parisiennes: What to Know Before You Go”

  • suedoise says:

    For Americans the socalled bathrooms or toilettes of France and Paris must be a sinister experience.
    However do discover how to do it: pretend -if stopped at entrance- that you are looking for the bar and do this at any of the fancy hotels
    and then head straight to les toilettes that you will find close to the bars and you will find excellent restrooms with fine soap and towels. Bars in these hotels are heavenly places more like elegant lounges
    where you are treated as royalty
    at a price you can afford.
    You will find entire families having tea there in the afternoons. You can also have small hot dishes and of course heavenly hot chocolate and gorgeous pâtisseries. Do discover.

  • Meg says:

    Ah, yes! My husband and I were in Paris this past May, and we remarked on the various states of the toilets we encountered. Overall, I found my experiences to be fine. The worst reminded me of a frat house bathroom or a typical dive bar – not great but not that big a deal. I never crossed any pit holes (which I remember seeing in Italy years ago). My husband, however, declared the men’s WC in the basement of the Galeries Lafayette to be the absolute worst he’d ever seen – topping those he’d encountered in both India and Africa. A fun read, thanks for posting!

  • Kiki says:

    such a necessary and slightly sleezy article. experienced and shared nearly every one of your tales (make that I DID experience them…).
    The worst experience just very lately was that I used the toilets just after two people have used them – and when I washed my hands I saw (and heard – nothing!) that the wash basin was totally dry and unused – I found the two people again in the restaurant, they belonged to different parties and I was only glad they were neither cooks or waiters…
    The by far always cleanest toilets are to be found on the French motorways’ rest areas. Something very important and reassuring – and you are not likely to know if the people before you have washed their hands!

  • Marla says:

    Having just returned home after two weeks in France, I feel compelled to mention what my 13 year old daughter refers to as “pit toilets” those being ones that don’t have a traditional seat and where you simply sit on the bowl, as it is. She was not loving that. They are, however, preferably to the one I recall from our trip to France two years ago: at a roadside stop in the Loire Valley there was something over which women were supposed to squat. Couldn’t do it – told hubs to drive on. Love your posts Paige.

  • Paige says:

    Of course there are many lovely and well-appointed toilettes in Paris! These are just meant to illustrate our (not entirely serious) take on the subject. I think we can agree that the beauty of Paris is often not matched by what one finds in the its restrooms. So remember: A little hand sanitizer in your bag goes a long way!

  • For the record, there are many gorgeous toilets in Paris. And there are many normal toilets as well. It is true that there is a high percentage or not so great, or clean ones, but this is not ALL of them. And these photos are definitely a bit dramatic. That said, always have some kleenex with you and be prepared to saunter into a cafe and head straight to the toilets without asking. If you ask, you just may not receive!! I have truly been turned down on many occasions in Paris when asking to use the toilets.

  • Lynn says:

    It’s funny, because while I enjoyed this post, I found myself almost unable to look at the toilet photos. They made me want to wash my hands!

    Loved your observation about no towels or (often) hand dryers. I’m always thankful when I’ve worn jeans or some fabric that can absorb the water :(

  • Interesting to be sure.
    When Asian women move from the countryside (where they use squat toilets) they get hip fractures like the rest of us. Who knew?
    More here:
    http://www.betterbones.com/blog/post/fracture-rates-rise-in-Asia.aspx?
    We have Queen Victoria for sitting us all on the throne or rather her doctor.
    The squat pose in Yoga has it’s purpose.
    Personally I seek out Fauchon and Angelina, though they say the underground loo at the Madeleine is divine..

  • Mary Jane says:

    For all the things I love about French style, I was shocked to read about the antiquated bathroom facilities. I might expect this in a 2nd or 3rd world country but not from a progressive state as France. I’ve been in truckstops that have nicer facilities than these. Disappointing to say the least. At least I’ll know what to look for and avoid when I venture to the city of lights.

  • Emily says:

    Such a great, obscure and helpful thing to blog about! Thanks for the info and tips!

  • Paige says:

    Hi Carrie – So glad to be of service! People expect everything to be beautiful in Paris and are often surprised when they encounter les toilettes. Hope you have a great visit!

  • Carrie says:

    Traveling to Paris in Sept and very happy to have read this article! Humorous and educational which is what I will need to navigate toilettes in Paris.

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