How to Use the Toilets in France

Toilet in France
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Using a toilet may sound like a simple task, but if you aren't used French plumbing, it can catch you off guard. In France, there are different kinds of toilets, many varieties of flushing mechanisms, and sometimes you might even have to pay a small fee.

Compared to some other countries, using the toilets in France is easy, but there are still some things that might surprise you. You might come to realize that things in France, especially when it comes to the toilets, are not always la vie en rose.

Where to Find Toilets in France

When you've got to go, you've got to go, but finding a bathroom isn't always easy in France as public restrooms aren't necessarily plentiful. Shopping centers or malls usually have public restrooms, which are always well signposted (look for the "toilettes" or "W.C."), as do some popular outdoor areas. If you can't find anything, you can always pop into a cafe, order a coffee, and use their facilities. If you're bold, you could also march into a busy cafe and go straight back to the bathroom, then leave to save yourself a small expense.

If you're driving through France, rest stop toilets along the highway are available, but they do not have the best reputation. They are known for not being cleaned very often and can be quite dirty. If you're on the road and need to go, try to wait until you reach a major service area.

Types of Toilets in France

Once you enter, size up the bathroom. Most likely, you'll find a regular toilet, but it is also possible that you could find a squat toilet, which is essentially a hole in the floor. For these, you will need to squat and hover to do your business.

In public areas, especially parks, you might encounter a sanisette, which is a pod-style public restroom. If it's your first time using one, check to see if it's occupied by looking for a red or green light. If the light is green, insert your change and wait for the door to automatically open. When you step in, it will close behind you. After 15 minutes, the door will automatically unlock and open, so be aware of how much time is going by when you're inside. Although these might seem unhygienic, they are actually disinfected after each use and are surprisingly clean. However, they are known for being out-of-order occasionally, so have a Plan B before you go looking for a sanisette.

Tips for Using French Toilets

Once you've found a toilet in France, you might think you've got it from there, but there are still a few things that could catch you off-guard.

  • Many restrooms are pay-only and sometimes manned by an attendant who will charge you to enter. Make sure to keep small change on you and have a variety of coins. Sometimes there is an attendant, but other times there will be a machine that requires exact change.
  • 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.
  • If you are visiting a fast food restaurant, save your receipt. It sometimes has a code that you'll need to use enter the restroom. If you don't have a code, you can also wait outside for someone to exit.
  • Flushing may also seem obvious, but there are a surprising amount of ways to flush a toilet in France. The flushing mechanism is not always on the back of the toilet, so look for a chain hanging from above or a foot pedal on the ground. Sometimes, the button is on top, but there are two of them and pressing both will make the toilet keep flushing. Sometimes, you need to pull the lever up, but not too hard or it might come away in your hand. Frequently, there is a large, rectangular bar on the back wall that you need to push.

It might take some trial and error, but keep at it and you will figure it out eventually.

Edited by Mary Anne Evans