Cultural: Small things, part 5


First of all, they aren't called "restrooms" here - you call them "toilets".  When I first came, I cringed every time my husband said let's look for a toilet--he had spent a year in Australia where this is the normal term.   The sign for them in public areas is the British term "WC" which stands for "water closet".

When we first came, there were almost no free public toilets. You inevitably had to pay a little bit just to use the toilet.  At these public toilets, just outside the door, or just inside, depends, there is a lady (usually) standing there, taking your money and handing you a couple sheets of toilet paper! (YES!)  I was really taken back the first time that happened.

Also when we first arrived, they often used signs that looked like this to signify toilets. 

That's fine...but which is which?   They don't put the words under the signs.  I had the hardest time remembering which was which.  I tried to have it make sense, thinking that the triangle represented hips of a woman.  Alas. No.  FINALLY, I figured out a memory thing that helped me - both the word "WOMEN" and "KOBIETY" have an "O" in it.  So, O = women's bathroom.

OK. Whew.

Got the public toilet thing down,


I saw bathroom signs that said, "Pań" (with an accent mark over the n) and "Panów".  Wow. When you are new to Polish and the language - which is which?

The word "pani" is woman and the word "pan" is man. I didn't know enough Polish to know and then remember once told, which was which. I usually ended up just watching to see who went in where.  (To answer your question - "Panow" - men, so pań is women).

Recently a man here in Poland mentioned that he was surprised with a woman inside the bathroom, near the urinals, collecting money and handing out TP.    I suppose that is less creepy than a man collecting money in the women's bathroom, which is what I ran into one time at the Warsaw ZOO, many years ago.

As to bathrooms in your house, typically the toilet is in a separate space than the shower/sink. At least that is how they used to be, but honestly, I'm not sure if newer homes are like this.  We built our home in a typical American style, because it takes more space to create a separate little room for your toilet instead of just putting it in the bathroom - American style.

Separating the toilet means that a bathroom is exactly that - a place for a bath/shower, whereas the toilet is just that - a toilet.

The toilets are all low flow, and are a couple of different styles.

The first place we lived upon arrival in Poland had a toilet like this. It was scary.  No water at all until you flush. Apparently it's a German style toilet.

We don't have this kind in our own home..we have a regular low flow type that looks like this:

You flush by pushing the button at the top.


(All images taken from google images.)

Oh yes...the malls all have free public toilets. You still run into places where you have to pay, but they aren't everywhere anymore.  There are  many restaurants that let you use theirs, but it isn't unusual to have to buy something in order to use their toilet.  I don't hold that against, them by the way. There were times when people would come and use their toilets, and then take extra toilet paper for the road - and it was a major cost for the restaurant (like McDonalds).

I hope you have a new appreciation for your bathrooms, for free public bathrooms and for simply knowing which bathroom to go into when you are in public!

Becky Petersen5 Comments