I’m sure a lot of you already know this, but finding a free public bathroom in Europe is like finding a $20 bill on the ground, especially in Paris and other French-ified cities.
Every time I go to Paris, I KNOW not to drink too much water unless I am going to be in a restaurant later, or able to get to a toilet easily.
The French like to hide their public bathrooms, especially in really chic department stores because no one wants to clean them.
It is like a maze to find one in a nice department store.
It’s on the 4th floor, in the back, behind the whole area of baby clothes which hides a secret doorway, under a ladder, through a tunnel, to your left, and… there’s no sign to tell you which side is which.
There’s only people come in and out looking refreshed that gives it away.
Otherwise, you can safely assume that NO ONE has a public bathroom available to you, not even if you’re pregnant.
Starbucks and McDonald’s (thank goodness for American corporations) are two places I can pretty much always count on to have a free bathroom.
The one thing I can’t count on is that they’ll be clean, big enough to step in and out of, and have toilet paper you can use, which is why I took to carrying a small wad of toilet paper around with me in Europe.
Sometimes they make you buy something and then give you the code to punch into the door to get to the bathroom, but more often than not, the bathroom door is left open, the lock is broken or someone will come out and you can dart into the bathroom for free.
My travel tale comes down to me being near Galeries Lafayette. I was drinking water like a camel and feeling the pain to urgently go to the bathroom every half an hour.
I couldn’t get to a Starbucks or a McDonald’s, and the ONLY BATHROOM in the entire place I knew of, was in the wine department of the grocery store.
I made a beeline for the door, and desperately turned the handle only to find to my chagrin, the ONE bathroom in Paris that actually had a lock that worked.
To unlock it, you had to be a patron of the restaurant of the wine department, and they would give you a token to open the door for free, OR you had to pay 1 EUR.
I was desperate…. and did I mention I was PREGNANT?
I started digging around my bag, pleading to everything I could conjure up in my head that I had a euro (frankly, it’s a ridiculous ripoff at 1 EUR but what are you going to do if you’re stuck?).
I came up totally empty of euros, and was about to desperately turn to the security guard in the store with tears in my eyes that I would pay him that equivalent of a euro to use the bathroom because I was pregnant and in need, when this French angel came out of nowhere.
I’m fumbling in my purse trying to count out exactly one euro to try my little plea on the guard, when this slim guy in a typical French business suit and with a suitcase comes up, smiles and waves at me saying IN ENGLISH NO LESS:
“I have it, I have it. Don’t worry.“, and he flashes the 1 EUR coin at me.
Don’t worry? I was about to get on my knees and beg the security guard to let me in, I was in such pain from my bladder. He had no idea.
He saw the utter relief on my face and my stammered, badly said “Merci beaucoup” either awkward or charming, and allowed me to go in first.
What a man.
French men = Courteous gentlemen, which I think stems from their pathological, cultural need to flirt and charm anything with boobs no matter how ugly, fat, or old.
Look, they even play piano in the streets!
I can tell you that I came out of that bathroom with a newfound respect and love for French genteel courteousness, which adjusted my previous view of French folk on the whole being rather blunt and at times, rude compared to what I was used to as politeness in North America.
They’re just honest and frank. Really, just look at it that way.
Oh I should mention at this point it’s a unisex bathroom which I think is rather smart and ingenious. Every stall is perfectly sealed from top to bottom with a door, and there are no urinals.
Both men and women enter, do their business behind the stall, come out, wash their hands together, and leave.
As a side note: WHY DON’T WE HAVE MORE OF THESE WONDERFUL UNISEX BATHROOMS?
If you have EVER seen the women’s bathroom lines in a busy mall snake around the corner and down the hall, while the men’s bathroom chirps crickets, you will wonder the same thing I did.
I found it pleasant to use, and not at all weird.
In case you’re wondering, in the event that this bathroom was not available, I would have made a beeline to the nearest cafe, tried to find one with “reasonable” prices for a small cup of espresso (under 2 EUR) and forced my partner to have a coffee while I used their disgusting, have-never-been-cleaned-in-2-months, locked women’s bathrooms.
Or just peed in my pants. *sigh*
Don’t travel when you’re pregnant. Especially in the early stages.