So you’re in Paris and you’re on a poetic pilgrimage to see the townhouse where Baudelaire once lived. You also get to see a man pissing into an open-air, very public outdoor urinal.
Is this a bonus bit of culture? “Look! A Parisian! “In its natural habitat!” Or is it downright inappropriate?
The City of Lights recently installed four of the urinals, which London, Amsterdam, Belgium and Australia already have, around the city—including high-density tourist spots like Notre Dame and one that overlooks the Seine. There’s a fifth on the way.
Nope, Those Aren't Mailboxes: Paris Rolls Out Sidewalk Urinals https://t.co/gr6cxAhPP6
— NPR (@NPR) August 14, 2018
“The eco-friendly devices are bright red boxes with openings in the front and floral displays on top containing straw, which transforms into compost for use in parks and gardens,” the CBC reports.
But the thing is, only men can use them.
— CNN International (@cnni) August 14, 2018
"They have been installed on a sexist proposition: men cannot control themselves — from the bladder point of view — and so all of society has to adapt," said Gwendoline Coipeault of French feminist group Femmes Solidaires.
If you’ve ever been to Paris, not to mention other big cities like New York and even some parts of Toronto, you know how public piss smells. Especially in summer. It’s horrific. It’s also probably how every major city smelled hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.
Cities tried to solve the sanitation problem of piss-lined public streets. Ancient Rome, for example, had public toilets. Experts say they were disgusting, but still.
In the 1800s public urinals in Paris were popular. “It wasn't until women started entering the workforce in greater numbers decades later that the need for enclosed cubicles with seats, toilet paper and hand basins emerged,” CNN says.
By the 1930s, there were over a thousand of them. “There is only one left standing,” the CBC reports. The government started to replace them in the ‘60s with public pay toilets.
My friend who lives in Paris says they are disgusting. The refrain “this is why we can’t have nice things,” comes to mind. It also explains why shop keepers and restaurants, aren’t keen on letting non-paying costumers use their facilities. That Homo sapiens aren’t capable of pissing and pooping into a generously sized hole without creating a mess is one of life’s greatest mysteries.
One time this friend of mine was with a little girl for whom she cares at a Parisian chain store. And that little girl had to go. It was an emergency. The store refused. So my friend let the five-year-old squat on the street outside the store’s entrance and piss.
Maybe that’s the solution: women just start peeing in the streets. I mean, these outdoor male-only urinals were originally installed to solve the problem of men pissing all over the place. Take it from the mayor of Paris’ fourth district, who loves them: "If we don't do anything, then men are just going to pee in the streets," he recently tweeted.
But a gallery director, who hates the urinals, told the CBC that somehow women are capable of controlling their bladders, “so why not men?
Bonus pro-tip: When I’m travelling in a big European city and I have to go, I thank goddess that I love espresso. The prices are usually fixed so for a euro or two, I can use a clean washroom in a café. Sure, there’s no toilet seat, but it’s doable. And word to the wise: if you really have to go, find the fanciest hotel you can and walk through the lobby like you own the place. There’s always a nice washroom somewhere in there