When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, even if you don’t have a penny to spend. Where did that expression come from? Well according to popular legend (and in this case, reality) an English stage magician in late 19th century Britain invented a pay toilet whose door can be unlocked by inserting a penny into a slot. Hence it became a euphemism for needing to do what you have to do. Pay toilets have a bit of a reputation, at least in the United States, of being rather demonic devices that seek to torture individuals who are in dire need for relief of the most urgent kind. They are not a new invention by any means. They go way, way back to Ancient Rome, where the Roman Emperor who made them retorted to the silliness of the idea by saying ‘money does not stink’.
But outside of the United States, especially in Europe, pay toilets are remarkably common. Not everywhere outside the U.S. has pay toilets; I know the Middle East doesn’t have them anywhere. But, in many of the more developed nations (and even some lesser developed ones) they are common enough that they’re just a fixture of public services and no one gives them a second thought. But which countries and cities have them? Which places do people still need to spend a penny (plus inflation) in order to meditate in the small room? Let’s see 15 places where you still need to pay to play when it comes to public toilets.
London is the original place where the pay toilets can to be found. In fact, it is the first place where pay toilets were made in the modern world. Almost all of them are found in the bus stations around the city, as well as the famous London Underground (which I can assure you is not a resistance movement, or some kind of artsy fight club). Though it should be noted that almost all the toilets that exist there are free to use, but they do have pay toilets on the streets in order to discourage public urination. Which would come quite in handy during major football games. People often drink a lot and need places to relieve themselves after losing a match…
London… Paris… maybe Tokyo! OK that’s the obligatory pop culture song reference, so let’s get to some serious business. Like London’s Underground, the Parisian Metropolitan has its fair share of diabolical pay toilets, and some of them aren’t even mechanized, which means some sorry fellow actually has to take your payment and wait while you do your business. Some of them even have vouchers that you can get from other places like those fancy French restaurants, which you would probably need to use to fill up on so we can continue on our pay toilet adventures…
Germany is another European nation that is notorious for its pay toilets. But like Paris and London, they are in special places and not a general purpose thing. You would think that Germany would make a lot of money in the bars located in the more touristy districts where their famous beers are served. But no, almost all of them are actually located around the Autobahn, Germany’s famous federally controlled freeway system. I guess they just can’t take the risk of people drinking and driving, so they put them in places where drinking and driving would not be possible, unless they wanted to turn the entire freeway into a wreck heap of twisted metal and people crying out in pain. Well that went pretty dark pretty fast…onward!
Mexican toilets don’t exactly have the best sanitary reputation in the world. Some of them can be pretty dirty and unpleasant (but whether or not they are as unpleasant as some truck stops I’ve been to, I don’t know). Though there are public toilets that are paid for, which may or not be better than most of the other non-pay toilets in the country. There isn’t much information on them, other than they normally work automatically with turnstiles and occasionally have an attendant who, like in many places, often just hand out toilet paper to the people. Once again I am left to think if the reason for that is to ration out toilet paper, or is it because they’re just afraid of people flushing entire rolls down the toilet? I do not know.
Argentina is a very unique case with pay toilets. They actually aren’t pay toilets, really. Though true pay toilets exist, they’re pretty rare, but what happens with the public toilets that they do have is that they often do have attendants or janitors ready to assist in any way they can. But here’s the thing: these people don’t get paid, or at least don’t get paid much at all for their job, and instead have a tip jar or dish outside, with signs that say that ‘your tip is our salary’ in Spanish. So this is an entirely voluntary pay toilet, so let’s not be too stingy. When you’ve got to go, then at least be generous to the people waiting outside your stall.
Indian pay toilets are fascinating. I mean that sincerely. If you know much about some rather unsavory memes that have been floating around on the Internet of late (no pun intended if there even was a rather gross pun there somewhere). But there are not only pay toilets in the country, but they are run by a major corporation, and that corporation is called Sulabh International. Whether or not it is an international company is up for debate, but there is one thing that they definitely provide in India. They give some very decent bathroom services, and in places where they have poor sanitation, they act as communal toilets as well. I’m starting to feel weird writing all this right about now…
This probably isn’t all that surprising. I mean Singapore has rather bizarre customs, such as prohibition on long-hair, no chewing gum, and littering is a severely punished crime that carries some rather humiliating penalties. Although pay toilets aren’t exactly the norm, they are common in Hawker Centers (and I’m not entirely sure what that is, maybe it’s a place where people never stop hawking or something), where they do have quite a few pay toilets and even have attendants waiting on you, or sometimes just have a turnstile where you just put a coin in and go (hopefully not on the floor…) but sometimes even with that, they can still have attendants to pass out toilet paper. I’m guessing they’re just really worried about toilet paper thieves.
Taiwan (whose government is the Republic of China, go figure) is an island nation with a strong reputation of having an advanced economy, manufacturing, and a rather interesting penchant for having the company that makes edible plates. That way, after you finish eating the meal, you can eat your plate as well (although whether or not you WANT to do is a different question… it was sitting on your table, which is not necessarily the cleanest spot if you know what I mean).
But when time comes to dispose of the product of that meal, and you just so happen to be in the subway, you kind of need to pay to use the facilities. I say kind of because while the toilets themselves are free, the toilet paper is not. So that nightmare scenario of ending up in a bathroom with no toilet paper can be alleviated by either carrying your own paper (just say you’re a Rocky Picture Horror Show fan) or by having to fork over some cash.
So after going to Taiwan, we decide to head over to a Middle Eastern location that DOES have pay toilets, and like Taiwan, they have them in bus stations and underground cities (no word on whether or not these are full of subterranean mole people planning on taking over the world), and for a nominal fee, you can deliver back onto earth its bounty (dibs on owning THAT line) in the various pay toilets that they have in those places. Not much else to say about that, but I wonder why Turkey seems to be the exception in the Middle East when it comes to pay toilets? I figure maybe it’s because they just wanted to distinguish themselves further than the rest.
6. USA… pre-1970s
Yes America! The USA once upon a time had quite a few pay toilets around, and this was a rather contentious issue in the 1970s when feminists decided that they were another foul aspect that was infringing on the rights of women and needed to be gotten rid of…
To give you some context (and it does make sense after, trust me). Many public toilets were pay toilets, but only the stalls were, however. What this meant was, if men just wanted to do a number 1, they could use the urinals for free, but women had to pay in order to do their number 1. This is actually rather unfair situation for women, and the end result was the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America (yes that is what it was called). which ended up removing almost all pay toilets in the country, making them free. It certainly made things better for everyone. Making it a relief to get relief.
Of course, there has been a comeback of pay toilets in very few places in recent years by the Nik-O-Lok company, so maybe they need to be banned again, for everyone’s sake.
5. The Netherlands
Everything you never wanted to know about Dutch toilets. A Dutch Inconvenience… and other articles that talk about ‘toilet rights’ for women in the Netherlands. It is almost hilarious the type of things that you can find about this with just one Google search. Apparently there are 35 public urinals in Amsterdam for men, but only 4 for women, and none of them are free. Despite the relatively high cost of 25 Euro cents to use, most toilets aren’t even properly cleaned or maintained in the Netherlands either. Just looking up the various reports lead to chuckles. I suggest you Google ‘pay toilets in Holland’ if you want a laugh. Trust me, it’s funny because it’s true.
Iceland is a nice island nation in the middle of the North Atlantic that has been considered one of the most peaceful and prosperous places in the world, and it is also one of those places that may contain pay toilets, just as a bar of chocolate may contain nuts (did that mean what I thought it meant?), and while they are normal for the country and much of Europe as we have seen, there are entire travel guides for Americans, who as we have established, don’t have pay toilets anymore. I just find it hilarious that these things even exist. Do they put them under useful phrases and what the inevitable lead up would go to? Or do they just put it in some discreet corner of the guide somewhere.
Poland is a former Warsaw Pact country (the communist equivalent of NATO), and in many former SSR nations, pay toilets are actually common in many public places. I’m not sure if they were like this during the old Soviet Union days (and it would be highly ironic that a communist country would end up charging for something as basic as bathroom use), and according to most people in the know, this issue is actually a rather big issue in Poland, where they haven’t had any major renovations for over 15 years, and getting any half-decent, mostly clean public bathroom is actually rather hard to find. That picture is so exceptional because it shows a FREE toilet. The fact that they need a sign like this says something.
And the worst part is they are more expensive in higher turnout areas. So be prepared for a world of pain and holding it in if you need to get in a line up.
In Spain, according to extensive research (read: one traveler…) public toilets are actually rather difficult to find, and most of the toilets that people use in public are in cafes or bars. The rest are generally pay toilets of some kind, requiring the ubiquitous bathroom tokens that so many have gotten used to there. Of course, it still doesn’t matter most of the time since the cafes and bars still can provide it for nothing, but it is considered nice if you bought something. Those flushes aren’t free. After all, those power and water companies aren’t called power and WATER for nothing, after all.
1. Italy…sort of
So we end our journey of pay toilets in good ol’ Italy. The land of fine wines and liqueurs, and some of the best cuisine in the world. Not to mention the origin of the world’s cafe culture that in the past 30-something years has overtaken most of the world with its gourmet coffees and pastries. So naturally after consuming all those goodies, you would eventually need to take a break from all this and use the washroom to relieve yourself. But will you need to pay a little extra? The answer is not exactly. While bathrooms in Italy are not pay toilets by any stretch, local protocol looks rather down on people who use the facilities without having ordered something first, which creates the vicious cycle of having to consume more food, which means you need to use the toilet more, and then you still need to eat and drink again to use it. Will the vicious, dastardly cycle ever end?
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