France is full of mysteries and adventures, even when it comes to using some of its public toilets. I have never seen anything like this in the US, and you will never find instructions posted in the stalls. So what are you to do if you open a bathroom stall to find a hole in the floor and what looks like immoveable white petals? I immediately exit and search for a place with a standard toilet.
Not all French public bathrooms have this unusual toilet. I have come across them at several stops along the highway, the beach and some other public places. I only visit rest stops along the highway that has restaurants or stores, as this usually is a sign of having regular toilets. When it is a lone building that holds only bathrooms… beware.
My first inclination was to put my feet where the petals are and stand over the hole. While this would work for men, women would have to undress partially in order to use it. With the floors sometimes wet, it would also be disgusting to even attempt to remove articles of clothing, risking them brushing against the floor.
After coming across them again on my move from Normandy to Provence, I decided to search online for instructions. I figured out that I had it all wrong – you must squat over the hole. This means getting low to the ground, hovering over and praying that you do not fall over. These toilets are often referred to as a Turkish or squat toilet.
I always carry at least 2 euros so if I am out and need to use the restroom, I go to a café. This way I can get some fresh java and a comfy, umm, seat. I am sure one day I will have an emergency situation that will force me to use one of those toilets, now at least I understand how to maneuver myself.
I came across an interesting and funny article about these types of toilets, check it out if you want a good laugh. These toilets are common in most countries around the world… just be thankful that in France you will find toilet paper instead of a cup of water to clean up after you are done.
There are also some diagrams of the proper position for using this toilet on wikipedia.
Edit: I cannot believe that I almost forgot a good tip for you! Thanks to Tara in her comment below, if the bathroom offers a handicap stall then check it out. Those are usually regular toilets. When I was moving from Bordeaux to Lantheuil, I looked inside the handicap stall out of desperation and was too excited. Isn’t it strange to be excited over seeing a toilet?! Thank you Tara!