A Few Tips on Using Public Toilets in France
Ask for the WC (pronouced ‘dooble vey cey’) or say “ou sont les toilettes?” (‘leh twalette’), and it’s always plural.
‘Women’ could be F for Femmes or D for Dames; ‘Men’ could be H for Hommes or M for Monsieur.
Flushing This is not as straight forward as in the U.S., to say the least. Look up to see if there is a cord to pull, or look down to see if there is a foot pedal to push. If there is a metal knob on top of the tank, pull it. Or push it. There might be a metal button on the wall or it might be a large flat white panel that’s split into two, a big side and a small side, and you are meant to push the one that corresponds to the… er… job: the little side gives you a little flush, and the big side… well you get the idea. In case you were wondering, it’s a water saving measure.
Out on the Town In France it is not considered a public right to use the john. In practical terms this means you can’t just waltz into a café or bar and use the facilities; they expect you to actually buy something for the privilege, which makes it awkward. Here’s my approach (which admittedly works best for women): Head straight up to the barman, do the usual ‘Bonjour Monsieur’ with a hopeful smile, and say that you realize that the toilettes are generally reserved for clients, but does he think he could make a petite exception? These are the magic words.
If grovelling just to take a pee is not your style, here is a partial list of pay toilets (usually 50 centimes; best to have exact change as the dames pipi, as the washroom attendants are called, can be surly.)
- Cours Saleya Market, in the middle archway going towards the sea.
- Just below the Opera – Vieille Ville tram stop, down the stairs.
- In the Promenade de Paillon gardens, there is one across from the Old Town (very clean and well maintained), and another tucked under the fountain in the gardens across from the Boscolo Hotel.
- At various points on the Promenade des Anglais, down the stairs.
- On the Prom across from Vieux Nice, the Asian fast food restaurant Le Pai Lin Chinese restaurant lets the public use their facilities for 50 centimes and no attitude.
- On top of the Chateau, at least during tourist season.
- Galeries Lafayette has public bathrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floor, but you have to buy a 50 centime token from the machine (with exact change!) to open the door.
- The Nice Etoile Shopping Center has them on the top floor (70 centimes)
- Most museums have good free bathrooms, so don’t miss your chance before leaving!
- Most large hotels have excellent lobby-level bathrooms, but you have to be dressed nice enough to get past the doorman.
Or better yet, if you have a smartphone, you can download the fee app Ou Sont Les Toilettes, which will point you to the nearest public toilet no matter where you are!
A few more notes…
- Keep a travel pack of Kleenex with you and a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
- Most public toilets, even in bars, are (inexplicably) missing the seats. Ask, and they will tell you they don’t replace them because they just get stolen again. Really? Do patrons smuggle them out under their shirts?
- If you’re up in the backcountry or in Italy, public toilets are often Turkish-style, also known as ‘a hole in the floor’. Just so you know.
See Related Pages on getting by in France:
- Avoiding French Restaurant Pitfalls
- How to Café like a Pro
- How to Shop like a Local
- How to shop in a French Grocery Store
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Photo credit: WC door plaque from Paris France Products