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How To Use the Toilets in France

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Public Toilets in France

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

Kelby Carr
Using a toilet may sound like the simplest of tasks, but if you aren't used to France's plumbing it can be daunting. Find out what various forms the johns take here, how to flush, how much it will cost you and other secrets to using the restroom.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Varies (ahem!)

Here's How:

  1. Find a bathroom. This isn't always that easy, as public restrooms aren't necessarily plentiful. Shopping centers or malls usually have a public restroom, as do some popular outdoor areas. Parks tend to have the public restroom pods. Worst case scenario, pop into a cafe, order a coffee and use their facilities. If you're bold, march into a busy one and go straight back to the bathroom, then leave and save yourself a couple euros. Look for signs saying, "toilettes" or "W.C."
  2. Size up the bathroom once you enter. While it is much less common these days, some have a glorified hole in the floor. You are supposed to squat and hover, however I wouldn't recommend it. If you don't have to go too badly, look for the next bathroom.
  3. Go to the bathroom. Hopefully, you don't need any advice on this aspect.
  4. Flush. Easy, right? I can't tell you how many times I've given advice to bamboozled tourists on this score. The flushing mechanisms on French toilets are almost never on the back. Sometimes there is a chain pully from above, sometimes a foot petal on the ground. Sometimes there is a button on top, sometimes two (pushing both will make the toilet keep flushing). Frequently, there is a large, rectangular bar on the back wall. Push or pull whatever you find.
  5. If you encounter an outdoor public pod-style restroom, they are a bit of their own category, and can be rather intimidating and confusing. Simply step up and look to see whether it's occupied (red or green dot by the door). Put in your change, and wait for the door to automatically open. Step in, and the door automatically closes. If you are there 15 minutes or more, the door WILL open. These seem dirty, but they actually are disenfected after each use.

Tips:

  1. Always have small change on you. Many restrooms are pay, sometimes manned by an attendant and sometimes accepting change to enter. The outdoor restroom pods require exact change, so have 5- and 10-centime pieces.
  2. Don't be surprised by unisex bathrooms, or men's and women's rooms with a common lobby. The French are not nearly as hung up about separate restrooms as, say, the Americans.
  3. Before you enter, check to see if toilet paper is outside the stall. Sometimes, there are dispensers in the sink and mirror area, but no paper inside the stall.
  4. If you are visiting busy fast food restaurants, SAVE YOUR RECEIPT. It usually contains a code to get into the restroom there. If you don't have the code, you can also hit the bathroom and wait for someone to exit.
  5. Don't be surprised if the outdoor pod-style public bathroom is broken down. In my experience, more or out of service ("hors service) than working. Go to the next park and you should see another one.

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