Ode to Madame Pipi

220px-Madame_PipiIn honor of World Toilet Day, I am dedicating this post to that beloved institution of French life, Madame Pipi. Also known as la dame pipi, it is a mystery as to why this job is invariably held by a woman.

Public toilets, especially clean ones, are much sought after in France, nowhere more so than in cities like Paris. And certainly by no one more than yours truly. Given my distrust of la Sanisette, I have only the greatest appreciation for the important job of the toilet attendant. Unfortunately, she is a dying breed as automation increasingly takes over.

Ode to Madame Pipi

Madame Pipi is always there

Behind the door, below the stair

Always faithful to her post

You’ll find her where you need her most

Her job’s to see that you do yours

While staying safe and clean, of course!

She mops the floors and puts out paper

Sprays the air with fragrant vapor

She takes your coin, and in you go

Do your business, water flows

You wash your hands, prepare to leave

As Dame Pipi rolls up her sleeves

She scrubs the toilet with her brush

Makes sure that none forgot to flush

If you need supplies, she’ll help you out

Hygienically yours, that dame’s got clout!

So next time you have an urgent need

Remember, she’s a dying breed

Be sure to thank her as you go:

Merci, Madame Pipi, bravo!

 

Go ahead, take the plunge – leave a comment!

Beware the Sanisette

Beware the Sanisette

La SanisetteMy mother always told me to beware of public toilets. I was never quite sure what I was supposed to be wary of – bad smells, germs, lurking perverts?

Still, her warnings left me with a vague sense of discomfort that continued to haunt me as an adult every time I used a public washroom (‘washroom’ being the preferred euphemism of Canadians for toilets – aka loo, bathroom, lavatory, WC, etc).

Until I moved to France and discovered la Sanisette. When that vague discomfort was transformed into an outright fear of public toilets.

The Sanisette was originally designed to replace the public ‘pissoirs’ or urinals in the streets of Paris. They’re the French answer to clean, modern and readily available sanitation in public places. Its success has been limited, as anyone who has ever taken the Paris metro can attest – pretty well every nook and cranny still smells like a pissoir.

Sad to say, access to such facilities is often restricted so as to discourage the homeless from setting up housekeeping. Although they decided to make the Sanisettes free of charge (they used to cost 1 French franc or 40 euro cents), they have a 15-minute limit so as to prevent illicit activity like drug deals, prostitution and overnight stays.

These self-contained, self-cleaning structures are situated on busy street corners and city squares, so your private moment still feels a little public. They’re also unisex – not unusual in the old world where a single ‘cabinet des toilettes’ (water closet) often serves as both the men’s and ladies’.

The real problem I have with the Sanisette is the fact that you are forced to rely upon technology to keep your private business private. It is a nightmare for the excessively modest, the claustrophobic and the phobic in general (in my case, all three).

Here is how it’s supposed to work. You press the button and the doors open. You enter and the doors automatically shut. You do your business, wash your hands and press on the button to open the doors. You exit, the doors close and the unit begins a self-cleaning cycle, during which it is temporarily ‘hors service’ until clean and ready for the next user.

At least in theory. My fears are:

  1. The doors will randomly open at an inopportune moment, revealing me in extremis to a crowd of bystanders
  2. The doors will not open when they’re supposed to, and I will go through the complete wash and rinse cycle (possibly drowning amidst my own filth)
  3. The doors will not open at all, and I will be forever fossilized in a Sanisette

Think I’m paranoid? Shit happens.

Check this out:

To be fair, there are over 400 Sanisettes in Paris and most of them work just fine. I’m sure the tourists are grateful to find a functioning toilet when lining up to see the Eiffel Tower. There’s even an app for that.

But you won’t catch me in one.