Monday, August 02, 2010

Paris public bathrooms: not for libertarians

One thing I'm sure every tourist appreciates in a big city are public bathrooms. Paris "can haz" them, and they are even free. Truthfully, the one and only time I really wanted to use one, there was an ungodly line -- so long it was more worthwhile to find a restaurant, buy something to eat, and use their restroom. But that was in a tourist-heavy part of Paris. In the neighborhood where we lived, public toilets stood free, available, and welcoming. That is, if this cryptic sign can be said to be welcoming:

A free, automated public bathroom on a Paris street A sign on a free public bathroom on a Paris street


As you see, English language instructions say "A recorded message can be activated by pushing the button [...]" Message, huh? What kind of messages would I want to entertain me in a bathroom? Quick news? Horoscopes? A crash course in conversational French? :-)

As one can guess from French and Spanish language directions, the mysterious "message" is just instructions on how to use the toilet. And you don't even have to activate them -- they turn themselves on, and there is no escaping them. I didn't go to one of those bathrooms, but Ray did, and throughout his visit the facility talked to him in a concerned female voice of a French nanny state. :-)

I'm saying this tongue-in-cheek of course, but libertarians might want to avoid these facilities. ;-) The bathroom knows better than you what you should do inside, and in what order. Everything is automated. The toilet flushes itself. The soap dispenser automatically deposits a pre-measured dollop of soap on your hands. Then the water faucet turns on, runs for a predetermined number of seconds, and shuts off. Then the hand dryer starts, also to shut off after a certain number of seconds. If you need more soap or water, too bad: you won't get it until the whole cycle is over. Then you can restart it. But there are no manual overrides to let you return to a previous step, to skip a step, or to use more or less soap or water than you are allotted.

It can be annoying if your bathroom "use case" is one the designers haven't thought of -- for example if you, like Ray, go into the bathroom to wipe dog poop off your shoe. Not only he had to wait through several soap-wash-dry cycles to clean off his shoes, but all the while the bathroom was talking to him in a stern voice -- apparently scolding him for not using the facility the right way. :-)

More pictures from my trip to Paris are in my photo gallery.

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