Travel is an eye opening experience. You get to witness how different people across the world do the same task. Whether that be driving on the opposite side of the road, eating with chopsticks, or going to the toilet.
My most repeated phrase in Paris was “Why are French bathrooms so weird?” As every experience I had with one seemed to add another story to the list. My fellow travellers would even await my return in anticipation to find out my latest bathroom misadventure.
I should have known this element of Parisian life would be different when I found a bidet hose attached to my hotel toilet, or perhaps even earlier when in reading Stephen Clarke’s Paris Revealed I discovered that Paris used to have a series of different public urinals on offer to the male population, until they were destroyed when risque behaviour occurring inside them prompted an inquest. As far as I’m aware one remains, near a jail, that didn’t seem to be a nice area to visit, so I didn’t go hunting it out. I had enough of my own stories without finding it anyway.
The first story passed without much thought, if only I’d known what was to come. At La Bar du Cavaeu where we stopped for Charcuterie on our Urban Adventure I excused myself to find the bathroom. Behind a door and half way up a set of stairs on level 1.5 of the building was the small bathroom. Perfectly normal. That was until I left to return to the bar and almost tripped over the stairs. The bathroom was actually set lower than the stair level outside the door. You’ve got to love an old building!
You may have read about my second interesting bathroom experience in my blog post conveniently entitled “I Peed On Top Of The Eiffel Tower“. On the Eiffel Tower I encountered a somewhat unisex bathroom with a bathroom ‘guard’ in the middle. She sat perched watching over everything… like all the guys who were clearly exposed to anyone walking into the bathroom- male or female.
That’s not the only time I encountered a lady in the mens room. After getting past an oddly placed pole at the entrance to the Charles De Gaulle airport loos I found a lady floating around the room, waiting for her two young boys to finish their business. Perhaps she could have just stood to one side, rather than roaming around the room?
McDonald’s charged me to pee, I’m assuming as a way to avoid free-loaders and homeless people from constantly using the facility. But homeless people collect change on the street, so this is potentially a failed plan, especially as many people live a plastic lifestyle now and don’t tend to carry cash. Myself included.
Our Hotel Lobby had saloon doors between the stalls and the urinals, and a shoe buffing machine, which I would have tested if I’d been wearing something other than Converse. I did have to hold back from walking through the doors and proclaiming ‘This is a stick up’.
At a Pizza restaurant on our last day the urinals had a little picture of a golf hole with flag. A nice little target. Effective? Who knows! I didn’t know how to ask that question in French.
Obviously due to space limitations many places have the somewhat unisex experience. After my cliche French meal I headed downstairs and was completely confused as to which bathroom was made for men, and which for female. So much so that I thought what was behind yet another set of saloon doors was a sink. Incorrect. That was the mens room. I had apparently commandeered a stall intended for ladies.
At another cafe I encountered the most disturbing bathroom experience. The line for the ladies was backed up to the stairs, but I could quickly slip into the mens. The cafe was nautical themed, so the bathroom doors had portholes on them. Nothing like a window into a bathroom, but that’s not the disturbing part. Infront of me I noticed the wall was tiled, like a mosaic. Pretty. It’s always nice to see a well decorated bathroom, they’ve gone the extra length to create an all round experience, because let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than a disgusting looking bathroom at a nice place. It was then I noticed that in the mosaic were large chunks of mirror. All over the wall. To the point that if someone was looking in the porthole, and into the mirror they could see EVERYTHING. I quickly finished up and left.
All of these experiences, and a few more I’ve probably forgotten, lead me to create the statement that titles this post. “Why are French bathrooms so weird?”
And honestly… I’m still not sure.