French toilets and septic tanks

Paris pissoir

What is it about the French and their toilet habits? Whilst the rest of the world has moved on from pissoirs (in regular use in Paris well into the latter decades of the 20th century), France seems to have maintained their habit of peeing up against a wall.

A very common site in the countryside here is a car stopped alongside the road with a man standing peeing beside it. You might think that a coach would pull into a hotel and use the facilities as they do in other countries. France habits are different. Here, they pull into a hotel car park then the men head toward the hotel wall and the ladies squat beside the nearest hedge or parked car, totally ignoring overlooking windows or security cameras.

Of course, that’s just urine, isn’t it? Well, no, it isn’t. I’ll leave how they deal with “number 2s” along the road to your imagination but it’s certainly not in any kind of sanitary way. After all, why did you think the French invented perfume?

In the rest of the world boats have a holding tank for toilet and other waste water. French canal boats simply empty it straight out the bottom of the boat and the only reason why canal boats aren’t followed by a trail of toilet paper is that it sinks to the bottom. Bet that’s put you off paddling your feet in French canals!

Septic tanks tend to frighten the life out of brits moving to France. Quite rightly too. In the UK they are widely used in the country but there they are built well away from the house although you could quite safely drink the water coming out the other end. In France? Well, we’ve just been to a lovely park with a nice little sportsground and childrens’ playground. A rather smelly sewage plant is right inside the park! We even know of someone who built their septic tank right outside their kitchen window. I think that it’s safe to say that neither would be permitted under UK planning regulations but then who needs regulations to tell them that having a septic tank under your kitchen window isn’t a good idea?

Why can’t they clean up their act and get on like the rest of the world?

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13 Responses to “French toilets and septic tanks”

  • Karen Bryan says:

    I am glad to see someone else bringing up the subject of toilets. Now I know it’s not the most glamourous of topics but we all have to go! I have been very impressed by the aires, with toilets (albeit holes in the ground) on French motorways. Trying to find public toilets is a big problem when I am holiday. I don’t want to have to keep going into cafes, especially if I am only in a town for a few hours, I want to be out and about, seeing all I can. In the UK it depends on the policy of the local authority, perhaps it is the same in other countries. I would like to see clean, well signposted, open long hours public toilets in all towns. Toilet kiosks are fine by me, as long as I can find them.

  • Arnold says:

    I suspect that it’s down to the local authorities elsewhere in that presumably there’d be the local equivalent of planning permission to get which would be down to the mairie (mayor’s office) in France.

    Signposting is an issue too – we know that there are public toilets in the villages beside us but it’s far from obvious as to where they are as there are no signs and in both cases we know of the toilets aren’t in areas that non-locals would even pass by.

    Not sure about the kiosks. I know a number of people who are scared to use them and what do you do with the kids?

    Personally, I think they need to be free too. I can’t really see collecting £1/$1/1‚€ being viable when you consider the cleaning up that’s necessary when people don’t have the change and/or won’t pay it. Guys are the worst of course as, let’s face it, they just ain’t gonna pay even 10p for a pee.

  • Karen Bryan says:

    I think it would be great if the public toilets were free of charge but I’d rather have them there and pay to go. I must say that East Lotian in Scotland has great public toilets, free, open long hours, clean, well signposted. The whole issue about charging is vexed. Some local taxpayers argue why should they pay for public toilets which they never frequent, the user should pay. Some local councils closing public toilets as a easy way to save money and it is not a core service. Then there is the problem of vandalism.

    I agree that kiosks can be offputting but they are open 24 hours and cleaned between each use.

  • Arnold says:

    Looking at it purely as a cost to the council seems terribly short-sighted to me.

    For a start, not having the toilets is bound to cause costs in terms of cleaning the streets etc. which in turn will put people off visiting and lose potentially considerable income. A slightly different issue but you just need to look at the streets full of dog poo in towns & villages right across France to see what I mean. I haven’t yet seen anyone squat in the middle of a French town but I think it’s just a matter of time before I do.

    Aside from that having public loos available is a plus for sizeable aspects of the population, maybe an ageist comment but between one thing and another the elderly do use loos a lot more than they did when they were younger.

  • ZeMoua says:

    […]Whilst the rest of the world has moved on from pissoirs[…] please check your information before saying nonsense ! Pissoirs no longer exist in the streets of Paris, however, you’ll find them all over the streets in Amsterdam.

    If you need more public toilets in France, please, send us your money so we can build them everywhere in Paris :o) !

    nb: public toilets are not found in every village, but are easy to find in towns if you know where to look !

  • Arnold says:

    I didn’t say that they still exist in Paris but they did in the 1970s as I remember seeing them.

    The thing is that you would have more money to spend on public toilets if there were less spent on cleaning up due to the lack of them. It’s exactly the same situation in some areas in the UK which Karen of has commented on too.

    I get the impression that the provision of toilets in villages in France is actually better, on the whole, than it is in the UK. On the other hand, there appear to be fewer in French towns than UK towns. Where the problem lies is that in the UK people will, in general, seek out a toilet whereas the French will, in general, not bother and just use a convenient wall or whatever.

  • The French are short-sided when it comes to public toilets. My ex-husband and I went to Mont Saint-Michel (the middle of freaking nowhere, surrounded by quicksand.) We went with a tour group and the whole group was being held hostage in this old monestary…and they still demanded money to use the toilets. They didn’t want visitors walking on the grass or touching the walls, but they still made you pay to use the toilet. I remember getting really angry and I totally went off on the bathroom nazis…”It’s a public health issue! This is how diseases spread! What about poor people’s kidneys? Do you not care about the health and welfare of strangers? Do the French pee for free? Is it because we’re Americans?”
    My ex-husband had to drag me away from there, and I embarrassed the other American tourists we were with, but I meant it. I was really angry.

  • Arnold says:

    I have some sympathy for the “toilet ladies” (and they’re always women) in that at least you can expect clean toilets when they’re there. The problem is that 1) guys find it embarassing to have a woman standing at the entrance to their toilet and 2) it’s a situation that just never seen anywhere outside France.

  • The “PARIS Pause-pipi guide” is a guide that lets you quickly spot on a map the location of the nearest sanisette (free public toilet). And so you don’t have to rush in a café and spend your money !

  • I’m angry that there needs to be a guide to free toilets in Paris. I think the toilets are free in “Quick Burger” and McDonald’s…you can always lie when you enter a cafe, to tell them you are going to use the phone, and then just slip into the bathroom. Sometimes, they will charge the women, and not charge the men…which is irritating. I don’t know, I’ve come to associate the smell of urine and insecticide with the smell of Paris.

  • Arnold says:

    The problem with attempting to use cafes and fast-food outlets in general is that they have caught on to this tactic and it’s becoming increasingly common for you to need a code to get into the toilet which, of course, they’re only going to give out to customers. I think that’s only fair really as they obviously have to employ someone to clean the toilets and it’s hardly fair for loads of non-customers to be using their facilities.

    If they’re only charging the women it’s not only irritating, it’s illegal.

    What I don’t understand is why this is such an issue in France. After all, using public toilets is something that nobody did anywhere in the world before the 1900s for the simple reason that there weren’t any public facilities much before that. How is it then that in the majority of countries people have learned to seek out a public toilet in some form whereas in France it seems more the norm to use the nearest wall? It seems to be that it must be down to some difference in habits as I can’t see how it could be from some cultural origin given the relatively recent arrival of public toilets worldwide.

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