Monday 30 June 2008

Toilets in Paris

I stepped off the train at Gare St Lazare on my first trip to Paris back in the spring of 1988. Armed with a few clothes, a pocket full of curiosity but little money, I trudged glary-eyed around the city taking in its splendour.

I wandered aimlessly for hours, when it started to get dark I sought out a hotel that wouldn't break my meagre budget. I found one near Jaures which would settle for my first night in town. The matchbox sized room contained little more than a small bed a rickety table and sink. After dumping my stuff there the landlady led me through the hotel, to show me the bathroom facilities.

She opened a door, I peaked in and saw an enamel plate on the floor with a fist sized hole in the centre of it. It was of course a squat toilet but I'd never seen one before in fact I didn't even know they existed. I was baffled and at a loss what too make of it. I knew virtually no French, I fished out the dictionary from my jacket and, hastily seeking an explanation I constructed the phrase. est vide! (it's empty!) Now it was the landlady's turn to look confused.

20 years ago squat toilets were a common sight. These days in Paris there are very few, the throne version being the norm. However, you can still sometimes find them in old cafes that haven't undergone renovation. So you can seek them out if that's your thing.

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