Seen from Paris, blog about Paris

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Paris Sanisettes

Pipi ou pas? Or how Technology created the Parisian Roulette…

The Paris city hall is obviously very proud of its new « Sanisettes », these state-of-the-art public toilets that can be found all around the city of lights.

However, the beauty of these little merveilles might be at the expense of the walker’s need…

I am a tour guide, therefore I walk a lot. Hours. Days even. And it has happened that a functional break became urgent, for my visitors or for myself. As a tour guide, I know where to go mostly anywhere in Paris to fulfill that need, but that knowledge should have become useless because of the sudden bloom of 400 Sanisettes all over the city. Well, trust me, my map of Paris’s handiest toilets is still to be needed for a few years.

It’s true, they are beautiful. Clean, big, with a cutting edge design, you would even like to have one at home. And they are free, which doesn’t hurt. But in case of dire need, you are likely to bump into a closed door. First they are closed at night, between 10pm and 6am. Darn, right after Happy Hours, when you have been drinking wine or -worse- beer, that beverage that you never own, you only rent… So the City hall is not going to help you out at night, you’re on your own.

And you can be better off like that, because the worse case scenario is to find a closed door during the hours of operation. Of course if it says that the Sanisette is out of order, you know you can’t stay. But if it says “occupé”, then you might have triggered your own hell, as you are left alone to chose if it’s worth waiting or not. Because the Sanisettes can be occupied for up to 20 minutes. Now it’s up to you to decide if you can take the bet, depending on your bladder situation. You never know what’s happening inside: somebody about to step out, some addict shooting up, some gentleman reading the news or its facebook updates, a prostitute making a client happy or simply a short circuit that turns the little “occupé” light on when the sanisette is broken.

But even then, it’s not over: Miss Sanisette is really really clean, so she has to wash each time somebody gets out. So once the previous user has stepped out, unless you want to do what you have to do with an opened door (which can be a solution), you need to wait minutes that look like hours for the wash protocol to start, and for the green light to go on to be able to use the Sanisette. Again, it’s a matter of your own capacities. But a wise person would always get ready for the worse, and go somewhere else. And that’s sad.

I perfectly understand the reason why our City Hall gave us these prodigious tools, created by JC Decaux and that you find in other cities, in the UK or in San Francisco for instance. Of course it took a while for JC Decaux to finetune them, especially after the Little Girl Accident. The first generation Sanisettes, from the 80s, was pay toilets and self-cleaning, but the story says a little girl did not get out in time and was lethally washed. I am not in a position to say if that ever was true or if it is a Paris urban myth, but it took a while -2009- to get the new generation, and it clearly says no child must be left alone in them. So after years of R&D and who knows how many dead little girls for science, the new, enhanced Sanisettes are clean, accessible to handicapped people and ready to serve you at every corner…

Yet I’m afraid they fail to serve the basic Parisian man who only dreams about the old Vespasiennes. Especially when the city advertise against urinating in the streets, which is mostly a man thing. Not that women doesn’t do it, but I have only seen men doing this in Paris, I have seen it often, and I believe that is the reason why in several European countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, you have urinals in the street. It’s handy, efficient, and it doesn’t have to be dirty.

So I wish that instead of bragging about the 400 sanisettes in the city and the 35€ fine you get if you are caught urinating in the street, the City would give us a few cheap, handy urinals just like in Antwerp or Brussels. And like that, ladies would be happily served by our own Parisian sanisettes while gentlemen would take their 2 minutes to settle their own beer situation….