About the pee and pay culture

Yesterday my mom told me an interesting and helpful little tidbit about peeing. 🙂

I am of course referring to the facilities, rather than the act itself.

In different countries, the facilities themselves are often called different names, such as:

  • public washrooms/bathrooms (North America)
  • toilets (UK) (does anyone still call it the loo?)
  • WC (German speaking nations which incidentally is ironic because WC stands for Water Closet)

So this prompted me to blog about having to pee when one is not home, especially while traveling in a country that is not your own.

Note, me being me, I consider myself beyond fortunate to be living in Canada where for the most part access to facilities is free or, at worst, requires a key or a purchase (if in a store, which rarely gets enforced).

Occasionally there are no washrooms at certain outdoor sports venues, or they are locked until summer months. In those cases, there are usually enough coffee, fast food shops or big box stores around to address that problem. And although sometimes, in smaller shops, they won’t give out a key unless you purchase something, for the most part, the staff don’t care. Just the other night my daughter stepped into a Tim Horton’s (coffee shop) without purchasing anything, and no one batted an eye.

But the thing my mom mentioned: I do remember while growing up in Switzerland as a child, that you had to pay to use the public facilities, in train stations for example.

She said: “don’t forget to keep enough coins on you so you can access the facilities.”

She also said in recent years, if you are in a store or restaurant and you purchase something, they will allow you the use of the facilities for free with proof of purchase. There’s some code on the item that gets scanned, apparently. This is news to me, as it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve been back to my childhood stomping grounds.

She then proceeded to tell a few stories that happened to my siblings when they took their toddlers over to Europe for a visit in recent years. (Good to know that a parent must also pay to accompany a toddler even if only the toddler has to pee. Each person entering the facilities must pay. Huh.)

In Switzerland, the washrooms are supervised (for lack of a better word) by little old ladies (if memory serves) who keep things clean. As a 20-something I went back to Switzerland a few times, and remember always getting a scornful look by these people for daring to enter and use the toilet, and then proceed to turn on the water and wash my hands and… GASP!… dribble all over the counter.


Most of those ladies were miserable, rude, and obnoxious. They were probably not thrilled with the job itself, locked away in a washroom, and likely the pay was low as well. So I get it. Partly.

But really?

You’re going to punish your tourists for using the facilities while in your country buying things? Paying for services? Boosting your economy?

I foresee a blog post on this topic post-vacation. 🙂

Now it’s your turn, fellow bloggers all over the world. I know there are many British followers here on my blog, as well as from Belgium, central Europe, India, Panama, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand. (Did I forget a country? Tell me in the comments, I’m interested!)

What about all my American friends? Tell me, are things the same in the northern States as they are in the Deep South? What about the West Coasters? Or in Small-Town USA in the middle of the prairies?

I have been to America many times, but usually to larger cities, not smaller towns – perhaps you small-towners have some stories that are unique?

Then there’s the business travelers. Do you, when you cross borders, have to remember that the customs/habits change when you’re out and about in a foreign country?

Tell us your experiences in the comments.  Maybe we can all learn something.

25 thoughts on “About the pee and pay culture

  1. If #1 is difficult in Panama,
    then #2 is impossible!
    Even the ‘pay-before-you-go’
    stops ask #1 or #2
    before they let you go!
    Panama’s pee and pay culture
    could be a long read and the
    source of horror stories but,
    it’s almost home!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was surprised when we went to Germany that many of the bathrooms in restaurants were co-ed. The stalls all had doors that closed, and then there was a place to wash your hands, and nothing else. Worked fine. Took a bit of getting used to lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It used to be you could bank on the nearest Starbuck’s for a clean restroom with easy access. Not so much anymore. More and more are locked with codes, and once you get inside, you wonder why they even bother to lock it up. I must say, however, that in China, finding a clean Western-style toilet in a Starbuck’s is still a fairly standard godsend.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Paying to use the toilet is one of those things that still mildly annoys me. When I first moved to the Netherlands I was quite taken aback by the little old ladies sitting there expecting a tip. Belgium is the same, although they do tend to let young children through for free — and yes, I have taken a sneaky wee after telling the lady that it was only the twins who needed to go.

    Motorway services in Belgium tend to run a system where you have to pay to use the toilet but can use your receipt to get the cost knocked off when you buy something. Come to think of it, the multiplex near us has recently started doing the same.

    The thing to remember is: Toilet first, then shopping.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Here in my State you can use the restrooms if you are a customer. You can’t just walk in and go straight to one the out most likely you will get caught. And so some stores will say you need to buy something or they will tell you that you need to be a customer so next time buy something.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The London stations all charged for use of facilities until recently. I guess a city ordnance was passed to find them. They are all staffed and clean. Chain cafes over here tend to be clean and well looked after too. Independents are a lottery.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yes here in the UK we refer to them as Toilets and if I use one in a railway station the sign will say ‘Toilets’. Interestingly up until one year ago I always payed to use the toilets at Victoria Railway Station, however for some unknown reason they’re now free? London and big city toilets are supervised and generally very clean and hygienic………………… btw 😀 you’ll never hear people use the word Loo in Britain! (As a side note shops are tightening up on the general public using toilets without first buying an item.)


      1. It was a common term at one time – I’m quite old now, and I remember giggling with my school friends every time we said it – I’m probably in my own past if I use it now.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I experienced pay toilets in some British train stations. They even had a change machine if you needed to exchange bills for coins. Having IBS, I became paranoid and made sure I had some coins on me. What I wondered is what happens if you get caught without money and really have to go — just drop your drawers and do it in public?

    When I lived in L.A. briefly back in the mid-90s, you had to get a key to use the facilities in most places. There were so many homeless people using them it became a problem (either people feeling intimidated or bathrooms being trashed), so they only let customers use them. I’ve noticed this starting to occur in a few places in the metro Phoenix area — possibly due to the increase in homeless people.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have so little extended travel experience that I’m not a good judge at all. When I took family vacations as a child I remember gas stations would let you into a nasty bathroom with a key, but we were getting gas in the car as well. Not sure if gas stations (which have now mostly all become mini-marts as well) even offer facilities.
    I tend to limit my beverage intake prior and hold things as long as I can…which is getting harder the older I get 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have read about these pay as you go in Hong Kong, I believe. I am friends with a family where both the mom and dad are teachers and travel with their children. I think it was Hong Kong. I hate to use some of the public facilities but they are very clean for the most part in the Tampa Bay area.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nyc is the worst city to try to go to the bathroom in. There are so few clean, public toilets. I would gladly pay to use a facility for expedience. When we find a public bathroom that’s good in a certain neighborhood, we pass it around like a state secret. My daughter was shopping in SOHO district the other day, and she came home and said…forget using the bathroom at Starbucks. Just go to Bloomingdales….

    Liked by 2 people

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