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France: The Bad, Ugly and Smelly

Brace Yourself for the Unpleasant Side of a French Vacation

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Public Toilets in France

The public toilets in France are often broken down and sometimes a little scary.

Kelby Carr

It's a lovely day, and you are wandering along the streets of Paris. You peek into boutique windows and meander past sidewalk cafes. Then, all of a sudden, you feel it. You step, and your foot feels the funny squish. It slides a little. Your breath catches. Merde! (Literally.) You just stepped into one of the less-than-magical aspects of visiting France. Doggy doo. Of course, there are wonderful things about France: people-watching at a cafe, glorious cathedrals, delicious food, historical attractions galore. Before you flame me with nasty e-mails about how wonderful France is, let me say now that I completely agree. After all, I decided to move to France. With the good always comes the bad.

Don't let this list of bad stuff put you off from visiting. After all, it's all really just a French thing. But you should also be prepared for the bad, the ugly and the smelly before your visit, especially if you've never been to France. Here are all the gory and gruesome details about France's bad side.

Dog droppings

They can strike anywhere. On the sidewalk, on the street. The French love their dogs, and it's fun to see them walking around, sitting in cafes or relaxing in shops. But, they have to "go" somewhere. You just never know when you'll hit a landmine. It is best in France to keep your peripheral vision on the ground below you if you want to avoid puppy poop.

Toilets

Using the restroom in France can be an adventure, a challenge or even emotionally scarring. Although they aren't as bad as the horror stories you may have heard, they still have issues. For one thing, unless you are sitting at a cafe, they will probably cost you some change (maybe 30-50 centimes). For another, they are not always clean and can sometimes be downright frightening.

There are also the notorious public restroom pods (see the photo above). The concept is a good one: you can usually find one of these all over the place. In practice, they aren't so easy. You have to have precise change (it only takes on 10 cent piece and one 2o cent piece). They are actually cleaner than they seem, due to a massive washdown after each use. It's a bit jarring to have the door close on you when you step inside. And, of course, maybe one out of 20 of these toilets actually works.

Graffiti

If you judge a French village by the view from the train, you will probably have a pretty low opinion. That's because these areas seem to be a major target of taggers, and often buildings are covered with graffiti. It's a shame, really, when you see graffiti on a historic building or marring the landscape. But I think this is one bad side many first-time visitors are surprised by. Graffiti is quite prolific in France.

That SMELL

My first impression of France was not the best. We had arrived at Charles de Gaulle, and hopped onto the shuttle bus into the city. And it hit me like a sledgehammer. That smell of body odor. Whoa! I don't know who sat in the seat before me (or when he or she last discovered the marvels of soap and water), but it almost made my eyes water. Fortunately, this situation seems to have improved. After all, the French have some of the best soap in the world. I guess they are starting to use it. But you will still run into some unpleasant smells.

The other scent that is commonplace is that of urine. Maybe it's the difficulty and expense of using toilets, but you can catch a whif of urine in many public places. It seems to be worst in certain spots (rail station corridors, alleys, stairways and so on.

Click "next" to read about Driving, Smoking, Opening Hours and other French quirks.

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