When you've got to go, Paris toilets are an elusive prize

Paris (AFP) –


With cafes, bars and museums closed to combat the coronavirus outbreak, Parisians are learning what tourists have long known -- finding a public toilet in the French capital requires some sleuthing and plenty of patience.

Long lines outside the few facilities available have become a common sight as spring weather draws more people outdoors, in particular at parks or along the banks of the Seine.

"It's really complicated, especially for girls, because there's always a line and there aren't that many toilets," said Charlotte Le Merdy, a publishing assistant, waiting with around a dozen others for a break near Notre-Dame cathedral.

Men are more often tempted to duck behind a tree or find a relatively remote wall, which hasn't helped the city's complicated relationship with cleanliness.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo is already facing a torrent of complaints about trash and neglect on social media, where hundreds of unflattering photos have been posted with the hashtag "#saccageParis" (trashing of Paris) in recent weeks.

"I probably shouldn't say it, but you try to go somewhere secluded, in the bushes maybe," said Romain Chevreux, an event organiser who was enjoying an afternoon near the Eiffel Tower.

"It's a little complicated, especially because a lot of toilets are out of order, so you do what you have to," he said.

Luc, a street cleaner near the Place de la Republique, confirmed that "guys piss everywhere -- you see that the streets are dirty, that there's no hygiene."

- 'So filthy' -

The city says there are 435 self-cleaning toilets installed across the capital, which saw their usage drop by 20 percent last year due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

It also counts an additional 50 stand-up urinals and some 300 toilets at parks and gardens, many of which are indexed on the website toilettespubliques.net.

But many people are convinced that's still not enough. And often, the toilets that are working aren't exactly inviting.

"These toilets are so filthy, going inside is like you're trying to get sick," said Bamoye, a bike courier who like his colleagues often has no other choice.

Elie Sabaa, a taxi driver, has developed another strategy in the absence of quick breaks at a cafe.

"Ninety percent of the time I have to go back home because it's the only place that's clean," he said. "It wastes a lot of time."

The situation has made Parisians all the more impatient for cafes and restaurants to reopen -- President Emmanuel Macron has announced that outdoor seating will be allowed starting May 19.

"It does pose a problem when you drink too much in the parks, you want to find a toilet and there's a massive line," said English teacher Paris Zeikos.

"You need to be cautious to how much water you drink before, how much water you drink afterwards, and you kind of need to be aware of your surroundings at the same time," he said.