How To Use the Toilets in France

Toilet France
••• Things have changed since 1858. Getty Images/adoc-photos/Corbis

Using a toilet may sound like the simplest of tasks, but if you aren't used to France and French plumbing it can be a daunting exercise. Find out what various forms the johns take in this country, how to flush them, how much it will cost you and other secrets to using the restroom so you don't do the wrong thing. 

French toilets are part and parcel of some of the things you might not like in France.

Check out the Bad, Ugly and Smelly Aspects of France here.

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 which are always well signposted, 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 of euros. But many of them are downstairs so this might be a tricky option. Look for signs saying, "toilettes" or "W.C." In a cafe the toilets are likely to be unisex.
  2. Size up the bathroom once you enter. While it is much less common these days, some still have a glorified hole in the floor. You are supposed to squat and hover; however  this really is not recommended. And flushing this kind of toilet can be tricky; if there's no alternative, flush and run to avoid water splashing over your feet. If you don't have to go too badly, look for the next bathroom.
  1. Flush. Easy, right? Well there are various alternatives that can catch out the uninitiated. The flushing mechanisms on French toilets are not always on the back. Sometimes there is a chain pully hanging down from above, sometimes you'll find a foot petal on the ground. Sometimes there is a button on top, sometimes two (pushing both will make the toilet keep flushing). Or there's a button you should pull up (but not too vigorously; it can come away in your hand.) Frequently, there is a large, rectangular bar on the back wall. Push or pull whatever you find, but keep trying; you will eventually get it right.
  1. 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 illuminated 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 might seem unhygienic, but they actually are disinfected after each use and are surprisingly good to use, once you are used to them.

Tips:

  1. Always have small change on you (that is always a good idea). Many restrooms are pay-only, sometimes manned by an attendant and sometimes accepting change to enter. The outdoor restroom pods require exact change, so have euros and a 50-centime pieces to hand.
  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. You'll inevitably find these in small restaurants.
  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. If in doubt, keep paper tissues somewhere handy.
  1. 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 always stand outside the bathroom and wait for someone to exit.
  2. Don't be surprised if the outdoor pod-style public bathroom is broken down. In many people's experience, more are out of service (hors service) than working. Go to the next place and you should see another one.
  3. Try to avoid motorway toilets at the small Aires (motorway stops). They can be quite foul as they are not cleaned very often and then not very well. If you're on a motorway, try to reach a major service area.

More tips on French Customs you might need to know

Before You Travel

Edited by Mary Anne Evans