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Don't the French pee?

My husband and I were discussing why it's so hard to find a restroom in France that you can use without eating in their restaurant, or buying something in a store. Is this a cultural thing?
How have you gotten around it? You can't always time this act, especially with kids. Any and all advice welcome!

Posted by
23105 posts

It is a cultural things. Electric, water, supplies,etc. are far more expensive than the US. And I think there is less emphasis on providing services for general public. So there is an attitude that I will take care of my customers but no obligation to serve the general public. The fact that you are asking question, shows that you expect these services for free as they general are in the US. They are not in Europe. So, first you never pass up a bathroom even if you used one fifteen minutes earlier. Second, especially with the kids, manage the liquid intake. We have generally found that Sarbucks have free bathrooms. Often McDonalds and others will give you a code or a key with the purchase and make multi uses. And in a real emergency, tell them and generally they will let you use the restroom especially if it is a kid.

Posted by
32152 posts

lisa, As I recall from my last visit to Paris, there are automated pay washrooms (Sanisettes) on some streets. There also used to be older Pissoir versions (more convenient for males), but I believe these have mostly disappeared. You may find it interesting to have a look at This Website. This situation is also true in other countries in Europe, so it's not exclusive to France. I also find it a bit of a nuisance to pay for something that's free at home, but such are the joys of travelling in Europe. Cheers!

Posted by
6516 posts

"Don't the French pee?" If you've walked anywhere near a train or metro station in Paris, it is clear that they do pee. The men anyway. I've seen plenty of evidence on the streets of Paris that the other elimination method is also commonly practiced. Still, Frank gives you some solid advice.

Posted by
12040 posts

There is an advantage to this system- the WCs will always be clean and well stocked. Compare the situation to the unattended WCs in the US...

Posted by
833 posts

It is a cultural thing. It is common throughout Europe, in my experience. Especially in Italy, I would stop into a bar and just order an espresso and then use the WC. There were not many free ones around. Like another person said, use the free ones when you can!

Posted by
893 posts

James - it absolutely boggles my mind that peeing on the side of the road (in full view of passing cars) is acceptable for grown men. Or that it's okay for a mother to pull her little boys pants down and let him pee on the sidewalk if he needs to go. We were at Parc Disneyland yesterday and an employee yelled at a woman who was letting her son pee right next to the line for a ride. And the mother didn't bat an eye over it. (meaning she felt no need to stop her son) Having lived in France for over a year now, my children have grown bigger bladders. I swear French women are part camel. After coming here, you understand why they drink their coffee from tiny little cups and not a Starbucks Grande! Anyways...the advice to use a toilet wherever possible is good advice. We also employ the "if one person has to go - everyone goes" theory so that we don't have to stop again in 20 minutes. Always keep your eyes out for any big chain restaurant, as you can easily sneak in and use their facilities. Big stores (Carrefour, Decathlon, etc. will usually have a toilet.) Use the toilette before you leave the museum. In Paris, you can find restrooms more easily - it's the smaller cities where it can be nearly impossible. We've gone to the TI before to ask for the location of public restrooms (Train stations usually have them) and marked them on maps so we can find them when we're out and about if need be.

Posted by
8293 posts

There are about 400 of those pay-to-pee "Sanisettes" on the streets of Paris. After each use they are automatically washed down so are safe & clean to use. Every department store has public toilets but you need to inquire as to their location ... usually on the top floor near the restaurant/cafeteria.

Posted by
199 posts

Lisa, I always carry lots of coins when in Europe just in case. If I have to bribe someone (waitperson, host/hostess, cashier) I usually give them 30 to 50 Eurocents. If there is a bathroom attendent then they get another 30 to 50. @Tom: I agree. When I see how filthy and smelly some unattended bathrooms can be I'm more than happy to cough-up 50 cents for one with an attendent. It's not uncommon (at least in my metro area) to see signs that state the restroom is for paying customers only. Definitely use a free bathroom whether you need to or not. On one trip to Paris I told a rather hard-headed buddy to do this. He ignored me. Well, the Metro stops running sometime after midnight and we're miles from our hotel and he has to go. He relieved himself in the Place d'Italie station. I told him if he got caught he better have a way to bail himself out because I wasn't going to do it.

Posted by
2297 posts

I don't think there is such a big difference. What's different is the way you experience the European cities. You are there as a tourist and don't know the place very well. At home, you know your home city. When you're out, it's to do a specific errand or go to work. You know where the washroom is in your office or at the walmart. The French department store also has washrooms but you don't know right away where they are and need to inquire. Public washrooms outside restaurants or stores are not that common here at home either. Quite a problem when you're out with the kids to a playground that's not close to home. Or when they are out on a soccer field for practice or games - there is nothing like a washroom around. Very very few here put up port-a-potties in the summer.

Posted by
3313 posts

I think there are more public toilets in France than there are in most U.S. cities. Even the smallest of towns have somewhere to go. You may not recognize that the signs say "WC." But they are everywhere.

Posted by
205 posts

Thanks for all the info. Does anyone know if there are bathrooms in the parks,say if you're on a picnic? Are you allowed to drink wine on a picnic?

Posted by
23105 posts

Not sure I agree with Doug. My experience is that they are fewer but who is counting. Some of the more formal public parks will have public restrooms but not always. You can have wine on your picnic. Europe does not have the same type of open containers laws that the US does.

Posted by
19021 posts

Some do; some don't. PS: Frank. Empty wine bottles are good for something. Just don't forget which on you used for what.

Posted by
689 posts

I'm reading David Lebowitz's new book, The Sweet Life in Paris, and he has a part about how Parisians don't pee. It's pretty funny. I totally get a business not wanting non-customers to use the restroom; geez, even here in downtown Seattle you need to get a key or code almost everywhere because business owners don't want homeless people using the restroom. But the custom of not peeing in someone else's house I do find odd. I don't think my bladder could handle a dinner party like that. I actually don't find it any harder to pee in Paris than I do in any American city. Like I mentioned above with Seattle, most city businesses with restrooms in the States don't want non-customers there. And you have pay toilets with attendents in Paris; I've never seen that in the US.

Posted by
1328 posts

Everyone's got a French pee story! My friends and I once had a MISERABLY New year's Eve because all of the public restrooms were closed. ALL OF THEM. You could see people everywhere trying to "faire peepee" in the shadows.

Posted by
34 posts

we pulled up to a taxi stopped on the highway to ask directions and were quite surprised when we realized what was transpiring! We didn't have any hand sanitizer (neither did he) and his hands were all over our map! Pee where you can and when you can is the best advice.

Posted by
8886 posts

A taxi driver with hand sanitizer? Ain't gonna happen. No one else uses hand sanitizer except for Americans, as far as I know. Have never seen anyone else use this product. The overwhelming smell of urine is what put me off of Paris, especially in the Metro stations. The worst was climbing the stairs up to the top of the Sacre' Coeur, where the whole way stunk of urine. Who pees in a church? I thought the Germans were bad about going where ever they liked, but the French take the prize.

Posted by
1309 posts

Jo - Peter Mayle calls it "le pee pee rustique" in Provence.

Posted by
689 posts

I've never noticed the smell of pee in Paris. Or maybe I'm just immune to it, because I smell it so much here on the streets of downtown Seattle.

Posted by
207 posts

I always keep change also. I will gladly pay if I can find a public restroom in Europe. And they are always clean. I very seldom go to McDonald's here but I have been to ones in Europe, Canada and the Caribean just because I know they will have water and a restroom.

Posted by
61 posts

After riding the metro quite often during our week in Paris, I had to throw away my jacket because it smelled so bad of urine and other accumulated odors, even after laundering. I guess the natives must be used to it, otherwise they'd spend a fortune on new clothes.

Posted by
76 posts

We had just finished dining in an outdoor cafe in Paris and were just about to leave. As I dabbed a little lipgloss on, my friend scolded me saying, "That's bad manners in France!" A moment later, the mother at the table next to ours pulled down her daughter's pants and let her squat and pee next to the table. I just had to respond, "Putting on lipgloss is rude, but pissing next to your table isn't?!?!"

Posted by
205 posts

I got a PM from someone saying my question was offensive. I surely didn't mean it to be. The reason we posted the question in the first place was from bad experiences we had years ago in France. Once my mother-in-law wet her pants in Paris because no one,not even a policeman, would help her find a toilet. She was very angry. My father stopped traveling in France and Italy because he had trouble finding facilities, and he needed a cane to walk. We wanted to know if anything had changed. I never have a problem finding a restroom in the states and I travel a lot. The are convenience stores, supermarkets, libraries, parks and restaurants. I never hesitate to ask for the bathroom in a restaurant and on the rare occasion if I'm told it's only for customers, I always think to myself "well now I'll probably never be one". It has snobbish feel to it. It's like that restaurant in Date Night, where the hostess answers the phone "you're welcome" maybe not but I have to lighten this up! It's not really more of an expense- this is a service industry after all and there are built-in costs associated with running any business- people wouldn't ask if they didn't need it. Having said that, I have no problem with paying to pee. If we traveled expecting everything to be like home, then why go?. It's just that in a place as civilized and sophisticated as France, you'd expect more than you apparently get. My husband lived in Paris in the 60's and doesn't recall not using friend's WC's - that sounds so weird. Has that happened to you? And I've lived in London which can have some pretty smelly tube stations, but not all always.
You guys have offered up some great info. I think this post is worthwhile. And we love the French. Vive les differences! But not all of them!

Posted by
105 posts

Just returned from France...all over, Paris, Alsace, Provence, and the Dordogne region and never paid to use a WC. Keep your eyes open. There are actually plenty of free toilets all over. If not, I did as Rick suggested, walked in as if I were a paying regular and found a toilet...free! As far as the wine, it was totally fine in all of the areas we had picnics. Not to worry, they're out there.

Posted by
2193 posts

That's it...after reading through this thread, I'm now convinced the French are a bunch of uncivilized Barbarians. Why did this have to happen? I loved them just yesterday.

Posted by
114 posts

I hear/read all the time about the lack of public toilets is Europe, but really, besides in shopping malls, I can't think of a single public toilet in North America. Am I missing something here at home?

Posted by
32152 posts

lisa, FWIW, I don't consider your question to be offensive in the least. If someone doesn't like the subject matter, then perhaps they shouldn't read it. Your question has some validity in highlighting the differences in "facilities" between North American and Europe. This is good information, especially for first-time travellers. As I recall, the subject is covered in some of the Guidebooks so it's certainly relevant. Cheers!

Posted by
425 posts

If you are looking for a "rest room" in France, you will nearly always find one behind a church, or a Mairie (town hall). Simple!
Roger

Posted by
1986 posts

Roger. great idea. Thanks. Also often in Germany

Posted by
8886 posts

Having problems wrapping my brain around the fact that someone found this thread offensive enough to send a message to lisa. Sorry you had to experience that lisa. Your post is not offensive in any way, shape or form.

Posted by
432 posts

We just returned from France, and found this trip a little easier on the bladder than the last trip. We found a number of clean and free WC in a number of locations that I will remember for the future. A number of the Hotel D'Ville's seem to have free Public WC some where close by. Smaller towns take better care of these than larger cities. In smaller towns we also found free WC near churches. We traveled in the Alsace and Burgundy areas this trip and found many clean, and free WC every where. There is also nothing like traveling in the wooded and forested areas... lots of bush and trees to hide behind. Actually, I find these threads quite useful, as this is a perennial issue for travelers. Good to know what tips other folks have.