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Looking after no. 1 — in France


At one point, Stéphanie, our guide, affectionately dubbed us “the toilet group.”

Because this particular walking group was heavily weighted toward women of a certain age, which meant that we all spent an inordinate amount of time waiting around until everyone had a chance to go pee.

Toilets sign

On the Amalfi walking tour we’d done previously, pretty much every walk included a stop in the middle of it at a cafe or convenience store where, for the price of a coffee or chocolate bar, anyone who needed to could also use the facilities.

But on these France walks, it seems you often had an opportunity only at the start, then at the end of the walk. Of course, at the start, the urgency tends to not be so great, but then there’s that concern: If I skip this chance, how bad will be the wait for the next one? Hence, the waiting around for the pre-emptive bladder emptying.

For me, though, other aspects factored into the decision of whether to go now, or wait it out. Because with French public toilets, you never really know what you’re going to get. And I don’t just mean missing toilet paper.

Flashback: It’s 1992, we’re in Dieppe, France, and I really have to go. So we stop in for a meal at a restaurant. After giving our orders, I head toward the facilities, have a look, and immediately head back to the table.

“I can’t use that,” I tell Jean.

He, mystified, heads to the facilities to see for himself what horrors await. He shortly returns, laughing.

It was my first encounter with a Turkish-style toilet.

We’ve been to France a number of times since, and I had never encountered another such facility—until this trip. In fact, calling it a “toilet” problem isn’t accurate, as all it is, literally, is a hole in the ground, with two spots for your feet.

And I still can’t use that, so when it was on offer, I was definitely skipping that “opportunity”.

The French also have a certain concern with cleaning the facilities between use, which of course is nice—unless you’re not aware of the method of cleaning. Like, that when you pull the cord to flush, it will also spray water around to clean the whole general area! Regardless of whether you’re still in there…

And no, I did not get caught in that, but others in my group did, having to spend some time in wet pants afterward.

Thereafter, I would skip that style of bathroom as well.

Then there were the pay toilets that require exact change, though that isn’t as bad when you’re in a group, because someone can usually help you out. Some of those also have a cleaning cycle between use, which—again—is nice, only it’s not a super-fast process, so you’re extending the group wait by lining up for those. One them actually conked out after two uses.

Another more modern example had a voice guiding me through the bathroom process (all in français, of course): thanking me for choosing the lower-water flush option and explaining the actual flush would occur after I exiting; warning that I had 20 minutes (20 minutes!) before the door would fly open; etc. It was sort of hilarious.

Then on one walk we actually did stop midway at cafe with a perfectly normal toilet, and what did I do? I became inexplicably unable to unlock the door until those outside told me I was just turning the lock the wrong way.

Nevertheless, I did not give up on cafe bathrooms.

I just left them unlocked. (Kidding!)

2 thoughts on “Looking after no. 1 — in France

  1. One bathroom I was in in Arles, the lights went out after a couple of minutes (really not enough time) and I had to try to find the door in a completely dark bathroom as they never came on again. That was crazy. I don’t mind the Turkish toilets. One in Paris that I used, didn’t have doors on the stalls, which made it easier for jumping out of the way of the spray but not so great for privacy. But, wonderful stories to tell when back home. 🙂

    Will see how this trip goes at the end of June.

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