How to use an italian bathroom

Mens, Ladies and TRex toilets sign!

Whether you call it the restroom, toilet, loo, WC, lavatory, throne, ladies room, commode, lav or bathroom, few phrases are as essential as knowing how to ask where the bathroom facilities are when you’re travelling!

How to use an italian bathroom

And as public facilities are pretty sparse in Italy “spending a penny” (as we say in Britain) can be tricky so you will want to memorise these phrases in case of emergency!

So, lets cut to the chase – the easiest way to ask where is the toilet please is to say Dov’è il bagno per favore? which is pronounced it doh-VEH eel BAH-nyoh per fah-vor-ray? Simple and to the point!

Where is the toilet in Italian

Hopefully the helpful Italian soul that you’ve stopped in the street, café or restaurant will take pity on you and point the directions to the facilities but just in case they don’t it’s also useful to know that A destra means on the right and A sinistra means on the left.

Don’t get caught short or you may see this sign in Venice – It is forbidden to pee here!

Alternative phrases you can use also include –

  • Dov’è il toilette per favore? pronounced doh-VEH eel twoy-let per fah-vor-ray?
  • Dov’è il gabinetto per favore? pronounced doh-VEH eel gah-bee-NEHT-toh per fah-vor-ray?
  • Dov’è il WC per favore? pronounced doh-VEH eel voo-chee per fah-vor-ray? (Note : W is pronounced voo-voo in Italian – literally V V – but for some reason its enough to say vow-chee which really is VC. I have no idea why but it seems to work?!)
  • Dove sono I servizi per favore? meaning where are the services and pronounced doh-veh soh-no ee sir-VEE-tsee per fah-vor-ray?

Personally I find bagno and toilette are the most used and easiest understood but feel free to go with whatever phrase works for you!

How to use an italian bathroom

Donne e Uomini – signage pointing to the women’s and men’s restroom in Venice

Also, while we’re at it, I thought I’d throw in a couple of extra phrases that might just come in handy as you never know what you’re going to find on entering an Italian loo!

So if you get caught short without loo paper the phrase you need to say to the attendant (assuming there is one!) is Mi scusi ma c’è bisogno di carta igienica nel bagno per favore meaning Excuse me but there is no toilet paper in the toilet. Its pronounced Mee skoo-zee mah chay bee-zon-nyo dee car-tah ee-jen-ee-cah nell bah-nyo per fah-vor-ray!

Spending a penny in Italy

You could also try Non c’è carta igienica da nessuna parte meaning There is no toilet paper anywhere and pronounced Non chay car-tah ee-jen-ee-ca da neh-soo-nah par-teh. Or you could use the go-to tourist fall back and point and say carta igenica per favore? meaning loo paper please?

And finally if, as I once found in Rome, the toilet is rather…um how can we put this delicately…..bunged up, you could try something along the lines of Signora, il bagno è otturato, meaning Miss/Madam, the toilet is blocked and pronounced See-nyor-rah eel bah-nyo eh oh-too-rah-toh. Good luck with that one!!

Double toilets found in Perugia, Italy – presumably for a parent and child, who knows?!

So, there you go! If ever you are caught short in Italy and dying to spend a penny, or more likely a euro, I hope this comes in very handy!! If you need any more useful phrases in Italian pop over to Italian 101 for more suggestions including how to say hello, happy birthday, please and thank you and do you speak English?!! I am gradually trying to cover all eventualities so if there are any phrases you particularly want me to cover or any that have come in useful over the years that you’d like to share leave me a comment! And in the meantime, may your toilet roll be long and your rest room clean!

The end of the line – running out of toilet paper!

Useful information

There aren’t a lot of public toilets in Italy and the quality can vary, shall we say(!), so I would suggest a few travel tips –

  • Always carry tissues or wet wipes with you!
  • Always have change for public loos!
  • Museums and galleries usually have decent toilets so take advantage!
  • Never pass a free toilet, you don’t know when you’ll see another one!

How to use an italian bathroom

The most typical question I get from new arrivals in Italy isn’t “Where can I exchange money?” or “How do I get to the nearest gelato place?” but “What’s that thing next to the toilet in my bathroom? Do Italians really wash their ‘you know what’ in it?” To help demystify this mysterious contraption lurking in an Italian bagno near you, here’s a list of answers to 10 common Italian bidet questions.

How do you use an Italian bidet

1. How do you say, “bidet” in Italian?

In English: (Bih-DAY) – rhymes with “okay,” hence the wildly clever title of this article. In Italian: (Bee-DEH)

2. What is the main purpose of an Italian bidet?

To clean yourself after going to the bathroom. In Italy, they’re used in addition to, and not in place of, toilet paper.

3. Do Italian bidets have other uses?

Yes. They’re also used for washing after intercourse and, for us fortunate females, sprucing up during “that time of the month.” And, because of their low height, they’re great for shaving your legs or washing your feet. (Walk around a historic Italian city in sandals all day, and you’ll understand the necessity of that last one). Furthermore, if you live with a cat inside your house, it will love the bidet too.

4. Where will I find bidets elsewhere?

Bidets are common in Southern Europe, and parts of Asia and South America. In Italy, you’ll see bidets in almost every hotel room and private bathroom. Due to their somewhat intimate nature, they aren’t common in public places.

How to use an italian bathroomThe bidet in action

5. Are there different types of Italian bidets?

Yes. The average bidet in Italy looks and works just like a sink, with an adjustable faucet nozzle that allows you to control the angle of the water stream. Others spray water upwards, like a geyser, from a jet in the bottom of the basin. Some are built right into the toilet, with a little lever nearby to start the water stream. And the kind I avoid is filled with water flowing from the sides of the bowl, which is then splashed onto whatever part you’re washing or even used to “dunk” a little of yourself inside. Although not unlike taking a bath, I believe in full immersion for languages, not bidets.

6. Are bidets hygienic?

Other than maybe that last kind, yes, bidets are extremely sanitary. To put it one way: if a pigeon pooped on your head, would you just wipe it off with a paper towel, or use soap and water?

…the latter all the way, right?

Italian bidets are basically used to keep yourself extra clean, and they even prevent infections. I promise that, after trying one, you’ll look back on your previous bathroom rituals with mild displeasure. But if you’re still cringing at the thought of sharing a bidet with other people you’re living or vacationing with, let me just remind you that you’re all probably using the same toilet and shower (which isn’t much different).

7. How do you sit on a bidet?

Depending on which side of you needs attention, either facing away from the controls, like you sit on a toilet, or toward them, like you mount a horse (“bidet” is antiquated French word for “pony”). Giddy up!

8. Do you control the water temperature and pressure?

Usually. In most cases, the bidet will have three knobs: one on the left for hot water, one in the middle for water pressure, and one on the right for cold water. Tip: Be careful in Italy because “c” stands for “calda” (hot), and not the English word, “cold.” Other bidets have a single central control that regulates temperature (side to side) and pressure (up and down). Bidets built into toilets, on the other hand, sometimes have only one lever that turns the stream off and on. In this case you have some control over the pressure, but the temperature is left up to mother nature.

How to use an italian bathroomDetergente intimo (intimate cleanser), for bidet use

9. What’s the proper bidet washing technique?

Pretend you’re taking a localized shower: 1) get yourself wet 2) lather up using soap and your hand 3) rinse off. In Italy, you can purchase detergente intimo (intimate cleanser) at most grocery stores and pharmacies. It’s milder than regular soap and pH5 balanced, to preserve your skin’s natural defenses. One of the most popular Italian brands is Chilly, which like its name promises, will leave you feeling pleasantly refreshed.

10. What do I dry myself with?

If you’re at a hotel or in your own bathroom, with your personal, hand-sized towel hanging next to the bidet. If you’re at a friend’s house, with toilet paper. Which brings me to my last point: when in a bathroom in Italy, looking for something to dry your hands or face, don’t reach for the towel near the bidet.

Extra. W hy do Italians use bidet ?

Well, Italians use the bidet because of the historical heritage behind it. When it was invented in France also Queen Maria Carolina d’Asburgo-Lorena, Queen of Naples and Sicily, wanted one in the Reggia di Caserta. After the news went about in her lands every noble wished one as well, and as the 1900s and plumbing came about the whole country was flooded with bidets.

Have you ever said okay to a bidet? Would you try one now?

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How to use an italian bathroom

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With its blend of rustic, Old World charm and luxurious, elegant materials, Italian decor can give your bathroom a warm, inviting look that you’re proud to show off to guests. When painting the walls, a Mediterranean or Tuscan color palette that incorporates warm gold, burgundy and terra-cotta shades, as well as soothing blue and green tones, is your best bet. The way that you use these shades on the walls, however, is key to achieving a classic Italian look. Several painting techniques work well for the style and can lend your bedroom an authentic Italian look.

Sponge Painting

Sponge painting is the easiest technique for adding texture and Italian charm to your bathroom walls. You can start with a basecoat in any shade that fits an Italian decorating theme, like gold, terra cotta, blue or green. This shade is the least visible of all the colors you’ll use and serves primarily to help the texture of the glaze layer show up. Make sure not to choose a shade that’s too bold for the basecoat, though, or it may bleed through the glaze coat too much. Instead of a brush, the glaze layer is applied with a damp sea sponge, whose uneven surface gives the wall a textured finish. Glaze is available in a variety of shades at your local paint supply or home improvement store, so you should be able to find an option that complements your base color and fits the Mediterranean color scheme. For added texture, apply a second layer of glaze in another complementary color after the first has dried.

Color Washing

Like sponge painting, color washing can give your walls a textured appearance that is ideal for an Italian-style bathroom. However, color washing provides a softer, more subtle look so you wind up with walls that look weathered and worn. As with sponge painting, you start by painting the walls with a base color and follow with a glaze layer. However, to get a color washed effect, you use a brush to paint the glaze in overlapping “X” patterns. Once the entire wall is covered and dry, a second shade of glaze is applied in the same manner. The colors that you choose play a significant role in your walls’ finished appearance — using a light basecoat and darker glaze layers gives the most weathered appearance, but layering lighter top coats over a dark basecoat can help give your Italian bathroom a brighter look.

Two-Tone Patina

For an Old World Italian look in your bathroom, painting the walls with a two-tone patina is an ideal option. Like sponge painting and color washing, it involves using a tinted glaze over a base coat. However, after your base color is dry, you use a rag or piece of cheesecloth to apply a layer of clear glaze to the wall to give you more time to work with the tinted glaze layers that you’ll apply. A round glazing brush is the best tool for patina finish since it allows for more precision when you’re applying the tinted glazes in the random “X” pattern that helps provide the patina finish. For the two-tone effect, you cover the wall with one shade of tinted glaze, leaving some bare spots that you can fill in with your second glaze color after the first has dried. The aged look is achieved by using a dry stippling brush to soften the edges of the glaze while it’s still wet and blotting away the excess with a balled-up rag.

Stencils

You don’t necessarily have to use paint to add texture to your walls to give your bathroom an Italian look. Instead, try adding visual interest to the space by using stencils to create an Italian inspired border or mural. You can actually find stencils that allow you to recreate the look of Fresco murals found in Rome and other parts of Italy, which feature natural elements like birds, trees, fruit and wildflowers, so you can create a dramatic focal point on your bathroom wall. If you prefer a more subtle look, opt for grape leaf or vine stencils that you can use to create a simple but elegant border along your bathroom walls.

How to use an italian bathroom

Gold Master Bathroom With Copper Slipper Tub

Yellow walls, a copper bathtub and ornate chandelier give this elegant bathroom a golden hue.

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Italy’s Tuscany region attracts lovers of food, wine, luxury and glorious weather from all over the world. In so doing, it has inspired a popular design style that homeowners can apply to just about any room in the house. Kitchens are a common choice, but Tuscan bathroom design ideas are abundant as well.

If you’re in the midst of a new bathroom install or looking to update or remodel an existing bathroom, this sunny, warm and welcoming variant of Mediterranean-style design is definitely one worth considering.

One of the hallmarks of Tuscan bathroom design is the use of a particular color palette. Lively, natural earth tones are common, with deep oranges, browns, reds and yellows appearing consistently in Tuscan bathrooms. Mediterranean blues, ocher, terracotta and deep orange are some other examples of colors you’ll encounter as you consider a Tuscan bathroom design. These hues may be featured as a primary color scheme or highlighted throughout the space as accents. Some homeowners choose to focus on one tone for a more monochromatic approach, whereas others will mix and match from the full range of Tuscan-style colors.

When it comes to surfaces in Tuscan bathrooms, the natural, earthy theme continues. Terracotta tiles are often featured for floors or backsplashes. Countertops and sinks may feature natural stone or granite in deep earth tones and matte finishes. Backsplashes in mosaic tile may feature abstract designs, or, in some cases, pastoral or Mediterranean-themed scenes featuring the sea, sea life or fishing motifs.

Lighting is a key feature of Tuscan-style bathrooms, with natural light (if it’s available) taking a starring role. If your bathroom design features a window or multiple windows, make sure that any curtains or shades are semi-transparent to ensure that sufficient light will enter the space. For the lighting scheme in the bathroom, many homeowners choose a mix of task and decorative lighting for Tuscan-style bathrooms, with task lighting illuminating the shower and sink areas, and decorative lights placed strategically below and above cabinets to create a space that’s lighter and brighter still.

When it comes to furniture in Tuscan-style bathrooms, chairs, benches and cabinets are often made of natural wood, usually either unfinished or painted or stained in one of the trademark Tuscan colors. Furniture may be naturally weathered or hand-distressed, to create an even more lived-in, well-used and well-loved feel.

Accessories and decor in Tuscan-style bathrooms often continue the theme of laid-back luxury, with artwork featuring pastoral scenes or seascapes and natural elements like plants or stones all common. Fixtures like faucets and showerheads are often made from traditional metals like bronze and copper, sometimes featuring distressed or oil-rubbed looks.

Hey guys! So, this is a C.O.S.I Post about bathrooms in Italy and bathroom related things. Don’t forget to check out what everyone else has to say about the bidet, bathrooms, and bathroom humor on my COSI page. Want to join us? Leave a comment on the page saying so and we’ll get in touch!

So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about The Bidet.

When I have visitors from outside of Italy I know it’s only a matter of time before one of them shyly asks about that thing in the bathroom that looks like a sink on the floor. “It’s a bidet,” I tell them. They’ll move closer, as if they’re about to disclose a secret, “Weird! So, uh, how does it work?”

How to use an italian bathroom

A toilet (left) and a bidet (right). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Italian Public Bathrooms.
When you go into any home in Italy you’ll almost always be shocked by the sheer sparkling cleanness that is their bathroom. Even in the grosses bachelor pads, somehow, their bathrooms are always clean. I’ve never seen cleaner bathrooms in my life. So, it’s really disheartening to learn that for some reason, these clean people, cannot use a public restroom.

The public restrooms in Italy are among the grossest I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve traveled, a lot, and I don’t understand why. In the women’s restroom it’s entirely common to step over a river of urine on the way to the toilet. The sink is almost always clogged, water over-flowing, and the toilet is always, without a doubt, beading with piss as if, on a hot day, the toilet has perspirated pee. I’ve often tried to understand the logistics of how in the hell women can piss all over a toilet. Are they standing on it? Do they hang their bum over the toilet and belly dance? Are they just unsure how public toilets work? Sometimes, even in the nicest restaurants, I’ll enter a bathroom after a classy woman leaves it, to find a situation that can only be compared to the monkey exhibit of the zoo. Monkeys often pee on each other menacingly and on occasion they poop in their hands and throw it at each other. So, that, but in an ornately decorated public bathroom in a Michelin star restaurant. WTF!? Can someone please explain this to me?

Italian Bathrooms And Bathroom Signs.
There are almost always strange signs in Italian bathrooms. I’ve taken it upon myself to document them because what the hell?

How to use an italian bathroom

A Bathroom Sign In A Club In Florence

How to use an italian bathroom

The Dwarf-size bathroom ceiling (I hit my head twice trying to sit down to pee).

How to use an italian bathroom

Complimentary Vagina Soap

How to use an italian bathroom

In case you are too drunk to read the note, they’ve provided a nice illustration to teach you how to discard paper, missiles, and some sort of brick.

European bathrooms can be quirky by American standards. Your hotel’s WC may come with luxurious heated towel racks — or a rattling fan and leaky sink. Just keep an open mind, and remember that nothing beats a good bathroom story when you get home. No matter what, my advice is to wash up quickly and get out and about in the place you came to enjoy.

First, don’t expect big spaces. Over the years, hotel owners have carved out chunks of elegant bedrooms to shoehorn in prefab private bathrooms — and they can be very tight. Counter space is often limited, and showers can be surprisingly tight, especially if you’re a larger person. Be careful bending over to pick up a dropped bar of soap — you might just hit your head on the toilet or sink.

Even in top-end hotels, I find some things poorly designed. Once, I used a particularly narrow shower stall with the hot/cold lever directly in the center. If I nudged it accidently while washing, it would either scald or freeze me. And even worse, there was no place to put soap but on the floor or balancing precariously atop the sliding door. In Montenegro, I stayed at a trendy hotel on the Bay of Kotor. My bathroom was far bigger than many entire hotel rooms — but the toilet was jammed in the corner. I had to tuck up my knees to fit between it and the sink cabinet. The room was dominated by a Jacuzzi tub for two. I’m certain there wasn’t enough hot water available to fill it. I doubt it will ever be used, except for something to admire as you’re crunched up on the toilet.

In some bathrooms, you may see a mysterious porcelain thing that looks like an oversized bedpan. That’s a bidet. Tourists who aren’t in the know use them as anything from a launderette to a vomitorium to a watermelon-rind receptacle to a urinal. Locals use them in lieu of a shower to clean the parts of the body that rub together when they walk. Go ahead and give it a try. Just remember the four S’s — straddle, squat, soap up, and swish off.

When traveling in Europe, you may need to lower your towel expectations. Like breakfast and people, towels get smaller as you go south. In simple places, bath towels are not replaced every day, so hang them up to dry and reuse. This is also catching on with bigger hotels — even fancy ones — which, in an effort to be eco-friendly, post a sign explaining that they’ll replace towels left on the floor, but not those that are hanging to dry. In my experience, pricey hotels rarely stay true to this promise; your towels will probably be replaced no matter where you leave them. On the other end of the spectrum, dorm-style accommodations don’t provide towels or soap at all, so you’ll have to B.Y.O. Also, most European hotels don’t supply washcloths. If a washcloth is part of your bath ritual, pack one along in your suitcase.

Shower Strategies

Americans are notorious (and embarrassing) energy gluttons — wasting hot water and leaving lights on as if electricity were cheap. Who besides us sings in the shower? European energy costs are shocking, so many accommodations try to conserve where they can.

Hot-Water Hiccups

Most of the cold showers Americans take in Europe are cold only because they don’t know how to turn the hot water on. You’ll find showers and baths of all kinds. The red knob is hot and the blue one is cold — or vice versa. Unusual showers often have clear instructions posted. Study the particular system, and before you shiver, ask the receptionist for help.

There are some very peculiar tricks. For instance, in Italy and Spain, “C” is for caldo/caliente — hot. In Croatia, look for the switch with an icon of a hot-water tank (usually next to the room’s light switch). The British “dial-a-shower” features an electronic box under the showerhead — turn the dial to select how hot you want the water and to turn on or shut off the flow of water (this is sometimes done with a separate dial or button). If you can’t find the switch to turn on the shower, it may be just outside the bathroom.

No matter where you are in Europe, get used to taking shorter showers. Some places, especially modest accommodations, furnish their bathrooms with little-bitty water heaters that are much smaller than the one in your basement. After five minutes, you may find your hot shower turning very cold.

Handheld Showers

In Europe, handheld showers are common. Sometimes the showerhead is sitting loose in a caddy; other times it’s mounted low on the tub. Not only do you have to master the art of lathering up with one hand while holding the showerhead in the other, but you also have to keep it aimed at your body or the wall to avoid spraying water all over the bathroom. To avoid flooding the room, you may find it easier to just sit in the tub and shower that way.

Budget-Hotel Showers

Hostels and budget hotels can offer interesting shower experiences. In some places, the line between shower and bathroom is nonexistent, and there’s no shower curtain. The water simply slides into a drain in the middle of the bathroom.

A few hostels and budget hotels actually have coin-operated showers. If you run into one of these, it’s a good idea to have an extra token handy to avoid that lathered look. A “navy shower,” using the water only to soap up and rinse off, is a wonderfully conservative method, and those who follow you will more likely enjoy some warm Wasser (although starting and stopping the water doesn’t start and stop the meter).

Shower Cords

The cord that dangles over the tub or shower in many hotels is not a clothesline; only pull it if you’ve fallen and can’t get up. (But if the cord hangs outside the tub or shower, it probably controls the light — good luck with this.)

Shared Showers

The cheapest hotels often feature a shared toilet and shower “down the hall.” To bathoholics, this sounds terrible. Imagine the congestion in the morning when the entire floor tries to pile into that bathtub! Remember, only Americans “need” a shower every morning. Few Americans stay in these basic hotels; therefore, you’ve got what amounts to a private bath — down the hall.

Over the years, I’ve observed that even the simplest places have added lots of private showers. For example, a hotel originally designed with 20 simple rooms sharing two showers may now have been remodeled with private showers in 14 of its rooms. That leaves a more reasonable six rooms rather than 20 to share the two public showers. Those willing to go down the hall for a shower enjoy the same substantial savings with much less inconvenience.

Finding Places to Shower

If you are vagabonding or spending several nights in transit, you can buy a shower in “day hotels” at major train stations and airports, at many freeway rest stops, and in public baths or swimming pools. Most Mediterranean beaches have free, freshwater showers all the time. I have a theory that after four days without a shower, you don’t get any worse. but that’s another article.

By Rick Steves

Foreign toilets can be traumatic, even in Europe, but they are one of those little things that can make travel so much more interesting than staying at home — every world traveler has one or two great toilet stories that give “going local” a very real meaning.

Flummoxing Flushers

In Europe, you may or may not encounter a familiar flushing mechanism. In older bathrooms, toilets may come with a pull string instead of a handle (generally with the tank affixed to the wall rather than the toilet itself). In modern bathrooms, you may see two buttons on top of the tank — one performs a regular flush, the other (for lighter jobs) conserves water. In Great Britain, you’ll likely come across the “pump toilet,” with a flushing handle that doesn’t kick in unless you push it just right: too hard or too soft, and it won’t go. (Be decisive but not ruthless.)

Toilet Paper

Like a spoon or a fork, this is another Western “essential” that many people on our planet do not use. What they use varies. I won’t get too graphic, but remember that a billion civilized people on this planet never eat with their left hand. While Europeans do use toilet paper, WCs may not always be well stocked. If you’re averse to the occasional drip-dry, carry pocket-size tissue packs (easy to buy in Europe) for WCs sans TP. Some countries, such as Greece and Turkey, have very frail plumbing. If you see an wastebasket near the toilet with used toilet paper in it, that’s a sign that the sewer system isn’t up to snuff. Put your used TP in the wastebasket instead of flushing it. (The rule of thumb in those places: Don’t put anything in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first.)

Paid Toilets

Paying to use a public WC is a European custom that irks some Americans. But isn’t it really worth a few coins, considering the cost of water, maintenance, and cleanliness? And you’re probably in no state to argue, anyway. Coin-operated toilets are the norm at highway rest areas, train stations, and even at some sights. (Many coin-op WCs have self-cleaning toilet seats; stick around after you’re done to watch the show.)

Sometimes the toilet itself is free, but an attendant in the corner sells sheets of toilet paper. Most common is the tip dish by the entry — the local equivalent of about 50 cents is plenty. Caution: Many attendants leave only bills and too-big coins in the tray to bewilder the full-bladdered tourist. The keepers of Europe’s public toilets have earned a reputation for crabbiness. You’d be crabby, too, if you lived under the street in a room full of public toilets. Humor them, understand them, and carry some change so you can leave them a coin or two.

Women in the Men’s Room

The female attendants who seem to inhabit Europe’s WCs are a popular topic of conversation among Yankee males. Sooner or later you’ll be minding your own business at the urinal, and the lady will bring you your change or sweep under your feet. Yes, it is distracting, but you’ll just have to get used to it — she has.

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Some European bathrooms have shared hand-washing facilities for women and men, with adjacent but separate toilet areas. And some restrooms make no distinctions for gender at all.

Squat Toilets

The vast majority of European toilets are similar to our own. But in a few out-of-the-way places, you might find one that consists simply of porcelain footprints and a squat-and-aim hole. If faced with a squat toilet, remember: Those of us who need a throne to sit on are in the minority. Throughout the world, most humans sit on their haunches and nothing more. Sometimes called “Turkish toilets,” these are more commonly found in, well, Turkey.

Getting comfortable in foreign restrooms takes a little adjusting, but that’s travel. When in Rome, do as the Romans do — and before you know it, you’ll be Euro-peein’.

Finding a Public Restroom

I once dropped a tour group off in a town for a potty stop, and when I picked them up 20 minutes later, none had found relief. Locating a decent public toilet can be frustrating. But with a few tips, you can sniff out a biffy in a jiffy.

Coin-op Toilets on the Street

Some large cities, such as Paris, London, and Amsterdam, are dotted with coin-operated, telephone-booth-type WCs on street corners. Insert a coin, the door opens, and you have 15 minutes of toilet use accompanied by Sinatra Muzak. When you leave, the entire chamber disinfects itself.

Some cities have free, low-tech public urinals (called pissoirs) that offer just enough privacy for men to find relief…sometimes with a view. Munich had outdoor urinals until the 1972 Olympics and then decided to beautify the city by doing away with them. What about the people’s needs? There’s a law in Munich: Any place serving beer must admit the public (whether they’re customers or not) to use the toilets.

Restaurants

Any place that serves food or drinks has a restroom. No restaurateur would label his WC so those on the street can see, but you can walk into nearly any restaurant or café, politely and confidently, and find a bathroom. Assume it’s somewhere in the back, either upstairs or downstairs. It’s easiest in large places that have outdoor seating — waiters will think you’re a customer just making a quick trip inside. Some call it rude; I call it survival. If you feel like it, ask permission. Just smile, “Toilet?” I’m rarely turned down. American-type fast-food places are very common and usually have a decent and fairly accessible “public” restroom. Timid people buy a drink they don’t want in order to use the bathroom, but that’s generally unnecessary (although sometimes the secret bathroom door code is printed only on your receipt).

Even at American chains, be prepared for bathroom culture shock. At a big Starbucks in Bern, Switzerland, I opened the door to find an extremely blue space. It took me a minute to realize that the blue lights made it impossible for junkies to find their veins.

Public Buildings

When nature beckons and there’s no restaurant or bar handy, look in train stations, government buildings, libraries, large bookstores, and upper floors of department stores. Parks often have restrooms, sometimes of the gag-a-maggot variety. Never leave a museum without taking advantage of its restrooms — they’re free, clean, and decorated with artistic graffiti. Sometimes you can access a museum’s restrooms from the entry hall, without paying to go inside. Large, classy, old hotel lobbies are as impressive as many palaces you’ll pay to see. You can always find a royal retreat here, and plenty of soft TP.

By Rick Steves

Foreign toilets can be traumatic, even in Europe, but they are one of those little things that can make travel so much more interesting than staying at home — every world traveler has one or two great toilet stories that give “going local” a very real meaning.

Flummoxing Flushers

In Europe, you may or may not encounter a familiar flushing mechanism. In older bathrooms, toilets may come with a pull string instead of a handle (generally with the tank affixed to the wall rather than the toilet itself). In modern bathrooms, you may see two buttons on top of the tank — one performs a regular flush, the other (for lighter jobs) conserves water. In Great Britain, you’ll likely come across the “pump toilet,” with a flushing handle that doesn’t kick in unless you push it just right: too hard or too soft, and it won’t go. (Be decisive but not ruthless.)

Toilet Paper

Like a spoon or a fork, this is another Western “essential” that many people on our planet do not use. What they use varies. I won’t get too graphic, but remember that a billion civilized people on this planet never eat with their left hand. While Europeans do use toilet paper, WCs may not always be well stocked. If you’re averse to the occasional drip-dry, carry pocket-size tissue packs (easy to buy in Europe) for WCs sans TP. Some countries, such as Greece and Turkey, have very frail plumbing. If you see an wastebasket near the toilet with used toilet paper in it, that’s a sign that the sewer system isn’t up to snuff. Put your used TP in the wastebasket instead of flushing it. (The rule of thumb in those places: Don’t put anything in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first.)

Paid Toilets

Paying to use a public WC is a European custom that irks some Americans. But isn’t it really worth a few coins, considering the cost of water, maintenance, and cleanliness? And you’re probably in no state to argue, anyway. Coin-operated toilets are the norm at highway rest areas, train stations, and even at some sights. (Many coin-op WCs have self-cleaning toilet seats; stick around after you’re done to watch the show.)

Sometimes the toilet itself is free, but an attendant in the corner sells sheets of toilet paper. Most common is the tip dish by the entry — the local equivalent of about 50 cents is plenty. Caution: Many attendants leave only bills and too-big coins in the tray to bewilder the full-bladdered tourist. The keepers of Europe’s public toilets have earned a reputation for crabbiness. You’d be crabby, too, if you lived under the street in a room full of public toilets. Humor them, understand them, and carry some change so you can leave them a coin or two.

Women in the Men’s Room

The female attendants who seem to inhabit Europe’s WCs are a popular topic of conversation among Yankee males. Sooner or later you’ll be minding your own business at the urinal, and the lady will bring you your change or sweep under your feet. Yes, it is distracting, but you’ll just have to get used to it — she has.

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Some European bathrooms have shared hand-washing facilities for women and men, with adjacent but separate toilet areas. And some restrooms make no distinctions for gender at all.

Squat Toilets

The vast majority of European toilets are similar to our own. But in a few out-of-the-way places, you might find one that consists simply of porcelain footprints and a squat-and-aim hole. If faced with a squat toilet, remember: Those of us who need a throne to sit on are in the minority. Throughout the world, most humans sit on their haunches and nothing more. Sometimes called “Turkish toilets,” these are more commonly found in, well, Turkey.

Getting comfortable in foreign restrooms takes a little adjusting, but that’s travel. When in Rome, do as the Romans do — and before you know it, you’ll be Euro-peein’.

Finding a Public Restroom

I once dropped a tour group off in a town for a potty stop, and when I picked them up 20 minutes later, none had found relief. Locating a decent public toilet can be frustrating. But with a few tips, you can sniff out a biffy in a jiffy.

Coin-op Toilets on the Street

Some large cities, such as Paris, London, and Amsterdam, are dotted with coin-operated, telephone-booth-type WCs on street corners. Insert a coin, the door opens, and you have 15 minutes of toilet use accompanied by Sinatra Muzak. When you leave, the entire chamber disinfects itself.

Some cities have free, low-tech public urinals (called pissoirs) that offer just enough privacy for men to find relief…sometimes with a view. Munich had outdoor urinals until the 1972 Olympics and then decided to beautify the city by doing away with them. What about the people’s needs? There’s a law in Munich: Any place serving beer must admit the public (whether they’re customers or not) to use the toilets.

Restaurants

Any place that serves food or drinks has a restroom. No restaurateur would label his WC so those on the street can see, but you can walk into nearly any restaurant or café, politely and confidently, and find a bathroom. Assume it’s somewhere in the back, either upstairs or downstairs. It’s easiest in large places that have outdoor seating — waiters will think you’re a customer just making a quick trip inside. Some call it rude; I call it survival. If you feel like it, ask permission. Just smile, “Toilet?” I’m rarely turned down. American-type fast-food places are very common and usually have a decent and fairly accessible “public” restroom. Timid people buy a drink they don’t want in order to use the bathroom, but that’s generally unnecessary (although sometimes the secret bathroom door code is printed only on your receipt).

Even at American chains, be prepared for bathroom culture shock. At a big Starbucks in Bern, Switzerland, I opened the door to find an extremely blue space. It took me a minute to realize that the blue lights made it impossible for junkies to find their veins.

Public Buildings

When nature beckons and there’s no restaurant or bar handy, look in train stations, government buildings, libraries, large bookstores, and upper floors of department stores. Parks often have restrooms, sometimes of the gag-a-maggot variety. Never leave a museum without taking advantage of its restrooms — they’re free, clean, and decorated with artistic graffiti. Sometimes you can access a museum’s restrooms from the entry hall, without paying to go inside. Large, classy, old hotel lobbies are as impressive as many palaces you’ll pay to see. You can always find a royal retreat here, and plenty of soft TP.