Peeing in Italy
PEEING IN ITALY: THE BASICS
The fact that an entire blog article devoted to peeing in Italy exists should be your first indicator of what an adventure it can be. Despite the cheeky (bahaha) tone, my goal is to prepare and educate you so that from the moment you step onto Italian soil, your risk of shock or wetting yourself is almost zero.
If you’ve been to Italy, feel free to laugh and/or comment below with your best peeing tips or stories. Disclaimer: I’m a female with no desire to be questioned by the carabinieri for using the men’s bathroom in the name of research, so most of what you’re about to read is based on and geared toward the girl experience, but the general info applies to both sexes.
Speaking of, gender neutral is not a thing in Italy, so if you’re picky about your pronouns, you’re going to have to get over yourself here. Also, transgender people are not a legally protected class, so if that’s the category you’re in, FFS, just pick the door you relate to, pee like a human, and wash your hands when you’re done.
Peeing in Italy: Rule #1
First things first, public toilets are not (!) prevalent in Italy1 and relieving yourself in them is not free. If you’re new to international travel, Italy isn’t being an asshole…that’s the norm in most European countries. (South America too.) So, Rule #1 to peeing in Italy is: always carry € 0,50 and € 1 coins (and tissues) on you. (In Venice, the public WC is € 1,50…so carry both!)
Sometimes there will be an attendant with “entry tickets” like the ones at SM Novella station in Florence (SIT = lol). Other times, there will be a coin-operated turnstile. Either way, no € = no potty. I like to hope they’d take pity on you if you were about to poop yourself, but the hope that I’ll never have to find out supersedes that, so if you ever find yourself in that position, uh, lemme know how it turns out.
FYI, ristorantes and cafés (also called bars in Italy) that share toilets with other businesses can also have pay toilets, so if you just expect to pay to pee everywhere you go, it will feel like a gift from Mary when it’s free. Also, desperation can tempt innovation3 but before you piss on your shoes in an alley or have your kid pee in a Ziploc bag 20 meters from il Duomo, do yourself a favor and at least try to find a bar or gelateria.
Peeing in Italy: Finding the Bathroom
Technically, bathroom in Italian is “bagno” and the correct way to ask for its whereabouts is Dov’è il bagno? (doh-vay ill bahn-yo), which translates to “Where is the bathroom?” However, signage will rarely direct you to the bagno. Non, amici miei, both public and semi-private (trattorias, bars, gelaterias, etc.) bathrooms are generally designated by the terms “WC” and/or “Toilette(s).”
Look up and down for indicators such as this one from Piazza di San Marco in Venice. (BTW, this is an instructional article rather than a directional one, but the actual toilets are upstairs, and the WC entrance is around the corner from Hermes.)
When faced with a choice between two doors, Donne = Women and Uomini (or Uomi) = Men or Signore = Ladies and Signori = Gentlemen. There may or may not be stick figures to guide you. Beyond that, may the Force be with you. Also, when you see a sign that says “no paper in the toilet!”…do. not. throw. paper. in. the. toilet. You’ll either end up fishing it back out with your bare hands when it won’t go down or having to go get someone when it wreaks havoc with the plumbing.
Peeing in Italy: Rule #2 + Prepare Thyself for Public Toilets
Rule #2 to peeing in Italy, especially in smaller villages, is always pee when you have the opportunity. Museums tend to have the nicest toilets, but not always. Which brings us to Rule #3: If you’re a diva about only peeing in sparkling clean bathrooms…you need to get. the. fuck. over. yourself right now. I promise you that holding it until you find a facility that’s “up to your standards” poses a far bigger threat to your health than holding your breath and plunking your lily ass down on a toilet that’s even semi-functional when your bladder is at maximum holding capacity. Or squat…odds are you’ll encounter a floor toilet at least once. If you’ve never used one before, center yourself before releasing the kraken…losing your balance would be a bummer. (Pun intended.)
The difference between what you’ll encounter in public restrooms vs. what you can expect in the average Italian hotel, ristorante, or home can be…shocking. Even modest private bathrooms tend to exemplify the way that Italian design + Italian engineering = beautiful functionality. For example, my 25 square meter apartment in a 700-year-old building has a lovely bagno with pink walls, high ceilings with exposed beams, a swank matching bidet and toilet, an oversized tub, and a solid (Italian, obviously) marble vanity. As in, the kind David is carved from. It’s typical in both its layout and size.
Public restrooms…entirely. different. story. Some of them are clean, but a lot of them leave you wondering “WTAF happened in here??” Be prepared to get in and get out quickly, because lollygagging to fix your lipstick can literally make you gag in a worst-case scenario.
I’ve used bathrooms all over the world, and in direct conflict with La Bella Figura, Italy has some nasty ones. (The Trainspotting award goes to Hawaii, but that’s another story that I’ll probably never tell.) In its defense, foreign tourists (horribly unladylike ones, y’all!) are directly responsible for the state of Italian toilets, not Italians, who are actually exceptionally hygienic culturally. The discrepancy between the cleanliness of Italian casa and albergo bagni with their separate bidet and hand towels and public toilet grossness (where you’re lucky to have toilet paper, never mind something to dry your hands with) is vast.
In Italy’s defense, I wouldn’t want to clean up some of the (literal) shit I’ve seen either, so they’re not to blame for the state of public toilets…the people whose mamas didn’t teach them hygiene or manners are.
The Seat is Not Missing
The majority of publicly and semi-privately available toilets don’t have seats, which is actually a pretty genius move considering how much bacteria and other nastiness they can harbor. If you’re on the skinny side, sit toward the front or hover so you don’t fall in. Peeing in Italy may be adventurous, but rarely leaves bruises, so let’s keep it that way.
For the Love of God, FLUSH!
It should go without saying, but visual evidence indicates otherwise, so I’ll say it again: FLUSH! Italian toilets don’t have a standard flushing mechanism like the ‘lever on the left’ style of US toilets, and it may or may not be incorporated into the tank, which may or may not be attached to the bowl…it could be mounted on the wall high above. If there’s no obvious handle, then methodically look up, down, and all around for something you can push, turn, or step on. The two-circles in the wall above the tank version is common…push the little circle for pee and the big one for anything else.
Clean Up After Yourself and Use the Toilet Brush!
I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, that toilet brush (and there will be one, even in ultra-basic bathrooms) is sitting there with the expectation that YOU will take responsibility for swishing your skid marks away, princess. So, in the interest of international diplomacy, if you get poo on anything, have some respect for humanity and clean it up. Oh, and FFS, wipe your overspray off the seat and wash your hands when you’re done, capiscono? Make peeing in Italy a nicer experience for all.
P.S. Don’t pull the string thingy. Italian building code requires businesses and hotels to provide an emergency cord in case you fall or get stuck or have some other bathroom emergency. It won’t summon the fire department, but it will alert the front desk or clerk, so yeah, just leave it hanging there, Curious George(tte).
PRIVATE TOILETS: BARS AND GELATERIAS
Peeing in Italy has its challenges, but luckily, bars and gelaterias are abundant, so when you really have to go, it’s more than worth the cost of a € 2,50 gelato or € 1,50 caffè if you can’t find a public toilet. (Especially if you need to do more than that.) I’m perpetually up for both or either. If urgency takes precedence over ordering, just make it clear that you’ll be right back and you will be buying something for purposes of circumventing potential awkwardness (or the manager calling you out in front of everyone in the place, because he/she will).
In some cities, businesses are supposedly required to let non-patrons use the facilities, but I go down enough rabbit holes as it is, so I’m not researching that for purposes of this article. The worst thing someone can say if you ask to use the facilities is no, and you can always offer to pay € 1 and see if the answer changes. If you’re ballsy, rude, or desperate enough to try and sneak in and out, just be mindful that you’ll be more obvious in a smaller establishment, so size matters. (Because hello, it always does…just sayin’.)
It both impresses and perplexes me that women can be disgusting enough to destroy a bathroom on one end of the spectrum and have a weird thing about going poo in public toilets on the other. And yet, here we all are, which brings us to bidets…
POOPING IN ITALY: BIDETS
Bidets are not something you’ll find in public toilets, but you will find them in apartments, hotels, and higher end ristorantes. If I had to sum up bidets in two words, they would be Use. Them. If you never have before, OMG…game changer.
Before we talk technique, let me clear on the fact that you do NOT do your business in the bidet; you clean your hiney after the fact. That said, you can 1) Sit on it like you do the toilet with your butt aimed toward the spout (don’t let it touch…ewww), in which case, you leave your pants around your ankles or your skirt/dress up and shimmy from the potty to the bidet, or 2) Take off your bottom clothing entirely and straddle it so you’re sitting with your girly (or manly) bits facing the faucet.
Whichever method you go with, you just turn on the water, get it to the temp your nether region is comfortable with, soap up your dirty parts, and splash or direct the water toward them to rinse.
There will be a separate bidet towel in addition to the hand towel, so if it’s not obvious which one is which, the smooth-textured one is for your butt…never use it for anything else. Oh, and I recommend patting it dry over a wiping action, just in case…white is super unforgiving, and that’s what color they usually are.
Additional Bidet Uses
I always wash my hands in the bidet since the water is already warm, I’m already there, and it seems silly to involve another faucet, but the plug has always intrigued me since online tutelage regarding the use of such is hard to come by. Theoretically, you could plunk your ass down in it if you need to soak it or use it to do the same with your feet, but beyond that, I got nothin.’ For some reason, I never remember to ask this question of a native bidet user.
Coffee, the Amalfi Coast, and Other Italy Things
Using bidets as a segue to one of my favorite things about Italy (Italians are #1), lemme tell you about “caffè in piedi”…which is literally standing coffee. And it’s the norm. Italians linger over meals, but not coffee. You drink your espresso while standing at the bar, slightly slower but similar to how you would do a shot of alcohol…with a caffeine buzz instead of an alcohol one. Unless you get “caffè corretto,” which is coffee “corrected” with a shot of liquor, and then you get both, but ordering coffee in Italy is a separate article to be published soon.
Living in Italy is constant inspiration for writing amusing, irreverent, and informational articles on things like Amalfi Coast pro travel tips, so if you’re not already subscribed to my blog or following me on Instagram, join the fun!
1 Personally, I wholeheartedly embrace the philosophy of not retrofitting 800-year-old buildings or displacing art and architecture with oversized bathrooms, so before you even remotely consider complaining, think about where you are.
2 Cafes are called bars in Italy. So are bars. A lot of them are hybrids. If you can’t tell which one an establishment is from the outside, Google, Yelp, or Siri can probably tell you…or just go in and look.