The necessary

Ok, so this is going to be a less than glam post…hahaha, but I thought it would be funny (as well as useful). Some people say that in Paris, people pee in the street. There do seem to be quite a lot of people (mostly men for anatomical reasons) who do so usually in the evening (probably after a few beers) but you do see the occassional day-peer too. For the record. I never have.
But Paris has an interesting history of public toilets. They used to have “pissoirs” which were (back in the 18th century, as I learned from the French TV series Nicholas Le Floch) just a guy with a bucket and a small “paravant” or screen that was set around the persons’ waist area, for privacy (but the top half was visible. This was obviously for men only. Also, if you have been to Paris before at anytime up until recent years, you might recall also having to use a public toilet that was merely a hole in the ground, and it was a great effort to not splash on your shoes.

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I remember when finding a place to pee in Paris was a game of sneaky trickery or when you had to use your most sweetest face ever hoping the café server would allow you to use their loo even though you weren’t a patron of the restaurant. Seriously people, I used to have staked out all the places where I knew I could gain access when nature called.

Paris has had some issues in the past with the where and how of public tinkling.

Then there was a time when you had to pay for toilet access, and you still do in many places, but I remember when public toilets were 50 cents per use and weren’t necessarily clean. Those were the days when department store toilets were free, and I used to go there when in desperation. Now they cost a whopping 1 euro, are super shiny and designed by someone semi-important and they have an entire boutique (like this online version) at the entrance of the bathroom selling you accessories and fun toilet supplies. Plus they have paid staff that cleans EACH toilet after EVERY use. That I like. But I regress…

Those days of paying-to-pee are over! The Sanisette is here, (well it’s been here for several years now) It’s actually been free of charge since 2006, but the newer versions of these public WC have slowly been replacing the older ones that charged 50 cents.. They are automatic, handicap accessible and even non-cumbersome for the landscape and clean (usually). Plus there is a map on the outside wall indicating where you are. So helpful!

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The first time I used one tough, it felt rather odd, it was on rue de Rivoli, and I could hear all the traffic and people walking past, and that was just too bizarre for me… I kept thinking with horror what would happen if the automated door suddenly stopped functioning correctly and opened while I was still on the porcelain throne, and all those people I could hear would suddenly SEE me! *gasp* As far as I know, that has not yet happened. Whew!

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How about an intelligent place to pee? This is a toilet with automation and options. You even are able to select the type of automatic cleaning of the toilet that will take place after you exit, you are even allowed to change your selected option if in fact you chose the wrong one. (Normal or “in-need-of-extra-water” I suppose!)
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An automated voice guides you during your usage of the cabine, and indicates the buttons to push in order to use it properly. It’s in French. And there is an emergency exit handle in case the door stops working properly (like an opposite incident of my horrified fear episode on Rue de Rivoli).
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The toilets are easy to use, and it is explained in several languages directly on the walls.

Beware there is a maximum amount of time allowed in there : 20 minutes…

…and no kids under 10 are allowed to use them by themselves.

But travelers and tourists should be happy that you can pee for free now in Paris!

(yes, I admit, I actually took pictures of the inside of the public toilet… am I nuts?)

9 thoughts on “The necessary

  1. Yes, a universally useful post! Quelgues notes/questions-
    (1)I recall there were still some of the green-walled pissoirs around in the late 1970s! (2) By the phrasing, “you may recall,” are you saying the hole in the floor toilettes are no more? Would you know if they are still nicknamed “toilettes turcques,” or is that too unPC now? Those, too, were the rule, not the exception, when I lived there in the late ’70s- even in some quite nice restaus. I even had some hapless classmates whose chambres de bonne facilities were not only “down the hall,” & shared by the whole floor, but were just the, uh, cabinets turcs. Afraid I don’t recall if I ever did learn the correct name for them, since all my French friends called them “Les turcques.” And when I was in France in 2000 accompanying a large student group, the highway rest stops, even the Dames’, only had that most unfortunate style. They were one-holers,so our busload & many travelers made for 2 quite long lines. And, alas, given the, uh, increase in my own plumbing’s age, this was the first time I was desperate enough to have a go at the awkward contortions. There was a uni-sex handicappés cabine, and I would have loved to investigate whether it actually had a more accessible facility. But having no visible infirmity, I didn’t dare risk a disapproving glare or worse– I figured there must be some serious enforcement, even if only a social taboo,since no one was daring to choose the more comfortable option.
    (3) These palatial new, free facilities of which you write! (a) If they are gratuit, thus presumably not locked, how can the age rule possibly be enforced? And (b) How do they keep them maintained & free of vandalism in such a big city? How long have they been around & do they seem mostly to stay in working order? I haven’t been lucky enough to visit La Belle France since 2002, when the payant, street corner booths were still relatively new; there was even one on the median right by my old apt building, where once stood a large flower stand. I quickly learned never to count on these conveniences, b/c, every single one I ever saw was locked & marked “hors service”! Sans exception. I will be thrilled if the public works budget can keep these new ones functioning until I next have the fric to visit!
    (4) A whole Euro? C’est vachement cher, ca! I actually would not paying SOME (smaller?) amount, since an attendant increases (or used to) the chance of the place being clean or at least not revolting, stopped up or vandalized. On my last (otherwise glorious) visit, the tiny, unattended loos at the exit of Pere Lachaise were disgustingly backed up to overflowing & unusable. Impossible to enjoy the beautiful walkable Paris, or even to walk it, when one must keep one’s legs crossed. (5)Also in 2002, I recall that the Macdo & Quick enforced their “customers only” loos w/ combination locks for which the combination du jour would be printed on one’s receipt. Worked great in the Boul’Mich area, but in Place Belleville, the loos were filthy & overflowing. Now, for the record, I’m by NO means saying this problem is particularly French! Anyone who’s taken a long car trip & depended on gas station restrooms in the U.S. can attest to that. Worse, I’ve taught in several U.S. high schools where administration has become so helpless to stop vandalism & even enforce common, hygienic courtesy that they lock most of the restrooms! And my comment is already way too long, so I’d best not even get started on what the ecolo-inspired, nationwide “low-flow” laws have done to pubic plumbing! Dave Berry once said that his column on this issue drew exponentially more mail response than any other he’d written!

    (6) et Last comment (enfin!)– Even when there was no set cost [& the students would exult "FINALLY, one that's free!"], if there was an attendant w/ a tip bowl, I encouraged my students to contribute, to avoid us being glared at & typecast as boorish Americans. As the song goes, “She works hard for the money” [or at least, has to sit in a pretty grim workplace].

  2. There has been 2 times while doing the tourist thing that I really had to use it and wasn’t about to go in one of these. My fear was getting trapped in there, but then again I always had someone with me that could get help, so I shouldn’t have been fearful. Next time I shall face my fear and give my bladder a break!

  3. It has saved my life countless times, thanks god for public toilets!
    As far as I know, there’s just one pissoir left in Paris, in Boulevard Arago, still in use

    • Almost all toilets in Paris are unusual, not just the public ones. The number and variety of flushing mechanisms, light switches, ways of turing on the water to wash your hands, and toilet shapes are endless. One of my favorites is the men’s room at Café Français near Bastille. The “toilet” is a glass wall with a rushing waterfall!

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