Have you ever found yourself out and about and needing to go to the bathroom – RIGHT NOW?
Well, read on, because going to the bathroom in Italy is one of the most frightening experiences you will ever face in your life. And no, I’m not exaggerating.
Qualify your statement please, Hayley.
One of the many things that I still fail to reconcile about life here in Italy is the absolute opposite mentalities regarding bathrooms in private homes (spotless and often cleaned DAILY) and those in public (the exact opposite of those private).
I just don’t get it.
When you go to a restaurant in Canada and need to use the washroom, you can often lose yourself in there for hours at a time. Not because of the music (very conducive to “business”), or the cleanliness (impeccable!), but because of the welcoming atmosphere. It is not all that unusual to have dinner at a restaurant like Moxies, or Cactus Club and find a fireplace with comfortable couches in the washroom. Sometimes I bring along a book or some knitting and settle in for a good night of relaxation and “me” time in front of the fire, and if I’m lucky, I can wrestle away the remote from the restaurant hostess and watch my favorite show before heading back to my table for dinner.
Not so in Italy.
For a country that prides itself on la bella figura – essentially, making a good impression, this far reaching philosophy fails to make its way into the bathroom.
Walking into a public bathroom in Italy is akin to stepping back into medieval times before people had discovered soap and powdered their hair to suffocate lice.
If you’re lucky enough to have an actual toilet and not just a slightly raised platform with spots for your feet while you’re squatting into a hole then you probably won’t have a toilet seat.
Don’t ask me why, but the majority of public bathrooms I’ve used in Italy are all lacking the toilet seat. I can only imagine that there is a shortage of toilet seats in some far flung Eastern European country which has necessitated the theft and eventual gathering of said seats, and so the toilet seats in Italy have actually been a) removed to avoid theft, or b) already been stolen and are now sitting in a van alongside the thousands of bicycles stolen daily and then sold for profit just outside the EU borders where the long arm of the law does not yet reach.
Perhaps restaurant and cafè owners don’t want people getting too comfy in their bathrooms. Is this their passive aggressive way of complying with the laws of hospitality? “Sure, I’ll let you use the bathroom paying patron, but I’ll be DAMNED if you’re going to get comfy in there!”. Is the cost of hygienic upkeep and toilet paper too much of a burden for the small business owner? I can only speculate.
Sadly, I have (for the most part) gotten used to bathrooms in Italy and now carry wet wipes, Kleenex, anti bacterial gel, a Tetanus shot, and spare shoes in my bag at all times. For those of you visiting however, I have the following bathroom tips to offer.
Top 10 Bathroom Tips for Italy:
1. ALWAYS keep change in your wallet. At least €2 worth. Pay toilets unfortunately don’t accept credit or debit cards, yet.
2. Wherever you are, if there’s a bathroom, use it. You never know when you might find another one.
3. If you have the choice between a free and a pay toilet – take the pay one. People are there to clean it all the time. And while you might take it as an affront that you even need to pay for a basic human need (right?) you’ll thank me later.
4. Carry wet wipes. I use these for wiping the “seat”, my hands, the sink, the door handle, whatever I might need to clean in a pinch.
5. Carry Kleenex, toilet paper is not guaranteed (incidentally, the Italian word for “Kleenex” is fazzoletti. Just in case you need to buy them).
6. Practice squatting at home for up to 4 weeks before coming over to build up leg muscles.
7. Avoid bathrooms ON THE TRAIN if at all possible. Imagine a full range of socio-economic backgrounds cooped up together coming from countries with different bathroom habits trying to do their business on a moving toilet. Trust me, hold it if you can, the hole in the ground you’ll find at some of the more rural stations will seem downright welcoming.
8. Look below the sink for foot pedals to turn the water on when washing your hands. Blue = cold, red = hot (seems obvious but if experience has taught me anything it’s that assuming makes an ass out of….you know the rest). You might also just find one pedal – that’s OK too.
9. Flushing the toilet might be by pulling a chain, pushing a single button with brute force, or using the double selector (half flush, full flush) flusher.
10. If you’re expecting privacy in the bathroom; don’t. Men and women often share the same bathroom, or it not, the same wash basin. Space is an issue here, people! This isn’t really a tip, per se, but consider it a heads up. I don’t really care so much, but I know some of you might.
Have I missed anything? Any questions you’re dying to know about bathroom etiquette over here? Let me know in the comments! I’ll be back in a minute though, just gotta head to the loo…