Using a Public Bathroom in Spain

Dear Jamie,

dirty bathroom

I’m sure you’ve been impatiently awaiting the arrival of this post, after the public bathrooms cliffhanger in my private bathrooms post. Or perhaps you’re instead dumbfounded that I’ve now found reason to talk about this on two separate occasions. But let’s just be honest, we’re here to give you the SINCERE scoop, not just the normal-to-talk-about topics. Since you will eventually need to use a public bathroom somewhere in Spain, you might as well be prepared…

  1. Look for the “aseo,” servicio,” or “WC”: Despite being taught to say “Dónde está el baño?” in every beginner’s Spanish class, when you arrive in Spain you’re much more likely to hear “aseo” or “servicio.” (It’s essentially the idea that baño means bath and aseo/servicio refers to a room with a toilet, which is what you get in a public bathroom.) “WC,” which stands for water closet, is also the universal symbol for bathroom and you’ll save yourself some incredulous looks by noting this now. (Is it just me, or is this not a thing in the U.S? I swear I never say “WC” above the bathrooms back home, but when I came to Spain everyone thought I was crazy since it’s in English.)
     
  2. Bring your own toilet paper: Above all, this is what you chicas are gonna want to know! Even in a nicer restaurant, it’s REALLY common to find no toilet paper in the bathroom. And the worst part is that Spanish restaurant napkins are a joke and are almost a worse option so it’s arguable not worth going back out to grab some. Just save yourself the uncomfortable drip-dry and always carry a pack of tissue paper with you. This is also a sure-fire way to make friends in line for the bathroom.
     
  3. Don’t expect a toilet seat: It still blows my mind that the majority of public toilets here don’t have toilet seats! I really can’t come to a decent explanation as to why this is because I can’t imagine it saves that much money or cleaning. Get ready to get in some squats each time to visit the loo! (On the contrary, if there IS a toilet seat, I’ve been told by male friends that this is a problem as well as the seat typically won’t stay up on its own and so it’s the constant battle of having to hold it up or risking peeing on the seat...try to work on your aim?)
     
  4. Don’t flush your paper: Yes, you’re reading that sign correctly―they are in fact asking you to dispose of your used toilet paper in the waste bin, not the toilet bowl. While this feels insanely unsanitary for many of us, the fact of the matter is that plumbing in Spain isn’t the greatest. This means it’s really easy for the pipes to get backed up, even just with toilet paper (I’m starting to think there may be an explanation for #2) and if that happens it’s going to be even more unsanitary. I recommend you just follow their request.
     
  5. Cleanliness is not of the essence: Regardless of the country you’re from, you’ve probably experienced some pretty dirty bathrooms at bars/dance clubs so that’s unlikely to shock you. What may surprise you, though, is that some seemingly nice or at least average bars/restaurants will have some pretty nasty bathrooms, too. Just be prepared for wet and/or sticky floors, overflowing garbage cans, and no soap or functioning hand-dryers. With time, you’ll be a pro and pack your own hand sanitizer, too!

 

I hope that the above info hasn’t made you too squeamish or got you nervous that you’ll NEVER be able to face a public toilet here in Spain. The truth is that you won’t find these issues in every bathroom and, at least when you do, it’s not typically all of the them. Still, it can happen and I find that it’s better to prepare for the worse case scenario. That way, with your tissues and hand sanitizer on-call, you’ll be happily surprised when the bathroom smells fresh, has a toilet seat, or provides soap. It’s the little things in life you’ll come to appreciate.


Sincerely,
Spain