July 10, 2012
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 A loo that sports a turque screams outdated (not to mention perilous, especially for us girls) and most respectable establishments have graciously updated their facilities.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Find the nearest public toilet in Paris, right here!
- Download this app and find the public toilets simple in your phone
- 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
Paige 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