Avoiding Awkwardness: Public Toilets in France

French sign for bathroom door 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.  Or it could be unisex which is more and more common.


This is not as straight forward as in the U.S., to say the least.  Look up to see if there is a cord or chain 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.

The (lack of!) Seats

Most public toilets, even in bars, even in the Nice Airport (!) 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.

Word to the Wise: keep a travel pack of Kleenex with you and a small bottle of hand sanitizer, just in case.

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 groveling just to take a pee is not your style, here is a partial list of pay toilets (usually 50 cents; best to have exact change as the dames pipi, as the washroom attendants are called, can be surly.)

  • Public toilet sign

    “I piss therefore I am” A bit of pith by the local artist Ben at the public toilets located below the Opera tram stop.

    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 Antera Hotel, tram stop Massena.
  • Near the Place Massena tram stops, just go down the stairs to the parking and underground shops to find the restrooms.
  • At a couple of beaches along the Promenade des Anglais, down the stairs: Bambou Plage, Beau Rivage, Bocca Plage, and public beaches Centenaire and Forum)
  • On top of the Chateau, at least during tourist season.
  • Galeries Lafayette offers free public bathrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors.  Tram stop Massena.
  • The Nice Etoile Shopping Center has them on the top floor (50 cents) near the Nature et Decouvert shop.  Tram stop Jean Médecin.
  • The Nice Train Station, on the far right when you enter, but they’ll cost you 1€
  • Most museums have good clean bathrooms, so don’t miss your chance before leaving!  And if you bought the 4-day museum pass you have museum toilet carte blanche!
  • Most large hotels have excellent lobby-level bathrooms, but you have to be dressed nice enough to get past the doorman.
  • Most Asian fast food restaurants let the public use their facilities for 50 cents and no attitude.
  • During the summer, the city installs self-cleaning porta-potties on all the public beaches.
  • You can use the loo with any purchase in any fast food place, just so be sure to ask for the receipt which has the secret daily code.

Here’s an article that lists many that I mentioned, but with a map and pictures to help you zoom in in a crunch!

Man and Woman toilet signOr better yet, if you have a smartphone, you can download the fee app Toilet Finder/Ou Sont Les Toilettes, which will point you to the nearest public toilet no matter where you are!

See Related Pages on getting by in France:

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Photo credit: WC door plaque from RetroDeco

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