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Credit card postcards from Europe: Vol. III

Emily Crone

This is the third installment of a week-long series documenting Emily’s experiences with plastic in Europe.

Need to pee? You need cash.
Another important reason to carry change in Europe: You may need it in order to use a bathroom — or toilet, as they say. While Americans view the loo as a necessity available free of charge, Europeans treat it more like a privilege.

Postcard from EuropeI encountered pay toilets in train stations in Paris and Hamburg, at a tourist sandwich shop in Versailles (the town, not in the palace — those were free, though monitored by a lady I affectionately refer to as the Bathroom Nazi), at Tuileries garden in Paris, a bus station in Scotland and a rural tourist site in the Scottish borders.  The prices ranged from 40 pence/cents to 60 pence/cents (in pounds and euros).

About half of the pay toilets I visited had an attendant who could give change, so it was no problem if you had only bills. But if you had only plastic, no potty for you. Seriously.

The other half of the pay toilets I encountered were automated and required coins to be inserted before the door or turnstile would unlock. I can’t remember if they gave change or not. I read about this European concept while planning for my trip, so fortunately I was prepared and knew to always keep spare coins in my purse. Those who are not wise enough to come prepared must rely on the mercy of strangers or embrace the great outdoors.

hamburg-train-station.jpgDon’t fret that you’ll always need to pay to pee, though — the majority of the toilets I used were free. Once you’re inside a museum, you don’t have to pay to go. When you’re eating at a restaurant, you can use the toilets freely. Many hotel lobbies have free bathrooms. Sometimes you can even sneak in a restaurant you’re walking by and use its toilet without anyone noticing (guilty).

One day while waiting in a long line to get into the Notre Dame tower in Paris, I was informed there was no bathroom inside. I’d already been waiting 45 minutes and the tour was supposed to last an hour, so I decided it would be wise to use a bathroom before I got inside. There were no public toilets in sight but there was a cafe right across the street. I had someone hold my place and headed for the ladies’ room, but a mean waiter immediately saw where I was going and said I couldn’t use his toilet (I’m sure this happens to him every 15 minutes). We struck an agreement, however — I bought a 2.50 euro bottle of water from him and was then allowed to use his facilities.

While most European toilets won’t require you to pay, you will inevitably come across several that do. If you usually are a plastic-only user, take a step back in time and carry some coins. Not doing so can result in a pretty messy situation.

See related: Credit card postcards from Europe: Vol. I, Credit card postcards from Europe: Vol. II, Credit card postcards from Europe: Vol. IV

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  • LOL.
    This is so true.
    when I was in France I was forced to buy a Haagen Das in order to use their bathroom. The clerk was so rude, I have never again bought that brand of ice cream!
    How did you like Notre Dame? Did you get to go to Normandie? Giverny?

  • Connie,
    I’m sorry you had the same experience I did! I had no idea how many conveniences I took for granted until I got to Europe — especially ice, air conditioning, and free toilets!
    I toured the inside of Notre Dame cathedral and loved it, but I never actually made it inside the tower! The line I mentioned was taking forever and I was supposed to see Versailles the same day (and it was my last day). I realized I was never going to make it out there if I stayed in line, so I took off for the palace. Oh well!
    Didn’t make it to Normandie or Giverny…would loved to have seen more of France, but I only had two weeks and had several other countries to visit. Next time, I hope!! Thanks for your comment!