To appreciate the public restrooms we have in this country, you need to leave the good ol’ USA.
The ready availability of bathrooms here is something we take for granted, but travel to other countries and you’ll never take clean facilities, running water and toilet paper for granted again.
In general, Americans not only have easy access to public potties, but they are free. Not so in many countries, where you not only have to search extensively for a public throne, but it’ll cost you to go — anywhere from 25 cents to more than a dollar.
Sometimes these bathrooms are guarded by what I call the “toilet toll Nazis” who stand at the door and prevent passage unless you pay.
Not to pick on France, but I’ve had some memorable moments in their loos.
Once in Paris, near the Louvre, I was grateful to find a restroom, but didn’t see the elderly woman sitting at a tiny table in a corner collecting Euros. I buzzed right into the building, but was accosted while washing my hands. At first I thought she was just another visitor, but eventually she walked over to her table and pointed to the neat lines of change stored in her little metal tray. I had no money, and tried to explain that I’d have to get it from my husband. She was not happy.
After that, I made sure I had a supply of comfort station coins.
On another occasion, my husband and I joined a day-long tour of the battlefields of Normandy in Northern France. Very early one Sunday morning, we drove to a nearby town where we were to meet the guide. When we arrived, I was ready for a pit stop, but nothing was open. I eventually had to make use of a tiny sheltered corner with a couple of waist-high bushes just outside a hotel door.
Our tour group consisted of seven men, one other woman and me. We were well into the afternoon when we confided in each other, and then to the guide, that we needed a restroom break. He looked at us like we were from another planet. We searched, almost in vain, for a public bathroom in the tiny village where we had stopped for lunch (which he also clearly considered a time-waster). We finally found the vilest latrine I’ve ever encountered. Let’s just say that the smell was overwhelming and the plumbing non-functional, but we were desperate.
Another time in Paris, we had dinner at a little back-alley restaurant called
Roger la Grenouille (Roger the Frog). The dining room seemed pretty 20th century, but when I ventured to the back, I was surprised to find a very crude “squat” toilet without even a water tank. A large pitcher of water was provided for flushing.
This would’ve been a real problem for some of the potty princesses with whom I’ve traveled. They’ll use nothing but “Western” or sit-down toilets — a sizable problem when visiting Third World countries. Once in Turkey, while touring ruins, our guide searched for half an hour for a Western toilet for one of the women in our group.
In some countries, it’s not uncommon to have to BYOTP — bring your own toilet paper. You may have to do without if you aren’t prepared, or there may be enterprising women and girls selling toilet paper — usually not more than five squares at a time — at the door.
In defense of Paris, the city also has some of the most high-tech toilets in the world. Called Sanisettes, these streamline public bathrooms are worth a visit, which I did in 1996. At that time, as I recall, it cost about 50 cents a visit. As of this year, though, they will all be free.
The doors open and lock automatically — a little scary, but maybe not as scary as knowing that after 15 minutes, the door will open automatically. This is to discourage vagrants from taking up residence. By the way, a handle is available on the inside for opening whenever.
Flushing is automatic, as are the water faucets and blow-driers, but the most impressive thing is what happens after you leave. (This is the part I really wanted to see.) The entire interior is washed, sanitized and dried in about a minute.
I think the British have the best name for these space-age public conveniences. They call them Superloos.