Adapting,  Living Abroad

Using a Public Bathroom in Spain

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Dear Jamie,

Although we would like to believe this is a very interesting topic, perhaps you’re dumbfounded by the idea that we have decided to talk about Spanish bathrooms on two separate occasions (you can read more about bathrooms you’ll find in homes here). We feel like it is necessary to dive into this topic a bit more and 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”

Using a Public bathroom in SpainDespite 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.” For all you Spanish newbies out there, we would like to highlight that while baño means bath, aseo/servicio refers to a room with a toilet, which is what you get in a public bathroom. This doesn’t mean that people won’t understand you if you ask for a “baño” but you will look much more fluent in Spain if you ask for one of these alternatives.

Something else you might see, although it is much less likely that you will ask for it is “WC.” WC stands for water closet and is the universal symbol for bathrooms. So, if you’re looking for bathrooms in a place, you’ll save yourself some incredulous looks by noting this now. Now, if you are from the U.S., you will probably be scratching your head thinking “water closet, I’ve never heard that before.” WC is a common British term that usually refers to small rooms that only have a toilet or a toilet and a small sink. In U.S. terms, we call this a half-bath or a bathroom without a shower or bathtub.

 

2.) Bring your own toilet paper

Above all, this is what you chicas are going to want to know! Even in a nicer restaurant, it’s REALLY common to find no toilet paper in the bathroom. It may be that the bathroom is not stocked with paper or that they have run out, but it is not uncommon that you will find yourself without some paper. In our opinion, one of the worst things about having to fend for yourself in these situations is that Spanish restaurant napkins can often be a worse option than not wiping at all (yes, trust us on this one). Just save yourself the uncomfortable drip-dry and always carry a pack of tissues or pañuelos with you. This is also a sure-fire way to make friends in line for the bathroom, especially on a night out!

 

3.) Don’t expect a toilet seat

While we have been here for a while, we cannot get over the fact that the majority of public toilets here don’t have toilet seats! We don’t really have a good explanation for why this is as we cannot imagine that it saves much money or cleaning. The only reason we can think that many places don’t use this luxury is because people don’t tend to sit when they use the toilet while out. Although it has been proven that toilet seats are surprisingly clean when used properly, we have also noticed that in the places that do have them in Spain, it looks like people haven’t sat down anyway. Our recommendation is to get ready to get in some squats each time to visit public bathrooms!

For all you males out there, this might be an issue for you as well as we have been told by male friends that the seat typically won’t stay up on its own. Therefore, guys often have to battle between holding the seat manually or risking peeing on it. In your case, the only thing we can recommend is trying to work on your aim.

 

4.) Don’t flush your paper if they ask you not to

Yes, you’re reading that sign correctly―in many places in Spain they will in fact ask 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 the history of plumbing in Spain isn’t the greatest. Over the years people have gotten used to the idea that things are still this way (and in some plays may still be this way) and generally tend to err on the side of caution as the pipes might get backed up, even just with toilet paper. While this may seem gross, we do recommend you follow the requests just in case.

 

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 in Spain may have some pretty nasty bathrooms, too. Therefore, we think it is good for you to 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!

Using a Public Bathroom in SpainWe 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 everything on the list. Still, it can happen and we do try to prepare for the worst 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

8 Comments

  • ian@hotmail.com

    4 is the single most disgusting thing in the Western world. I actually don’t blame Spanish plumbers so much, but the small percentage of the population who seem to think that literally anything can be flushed down a loo (note spelling 😛 ), these people existing and needing to relieve themselves mean that it’s too risky for public toilet owners to not have a strict note.

    My reasoning is that I’ve been in dozens of private residence toilets and not once did I see a sign or get briefed before entering on where to deposit the bog roll.

    The underlying plumbing is identical, so surely it can’t be that Spanish plumbers are all gross enough to never have contemplated the need for toilet paper…

    I blame it on the Spanish women who think putting 6 wet-wipes down together will flush.

    The mystery remains unsolved….

  • Sincerely, Spain

    We definitely agree about the disgusting part! It makes sense that public places keep a strict policy regarding this to avoid any sort of back-up, despite toilet paper not being the real culprit of the problem. Thankfully, we’ve noticed more warning signs (and even reports on the news) about the damage that flushing wet wipes can cause…so maybe we’ll see some changes. Maybe! 🙂

  • Sincerely, Spain

    Thanks for your feedback, Marco. However, we would have to disagree on them being "complete lies." While there are certainly some nice public bathrooms with toilet seats and without signs urging you not to flush your toilet paper, there are plenty that do fall into this category.

    Our intention is to provide insight for other foreigners coming to Spain and since these are some aspects of public bathrooms that have surprised us, we believe they will be of interest for others to know as well. Again, we are not claiming that each and every bathroom in Spain is as described but encountering the situations mentioned in 3) and 4) is something that personally never happened to us in our home countries and has happened very often to us in Spain, so it is worth noting in order to help others be prepared for the possibility.

  • ellie244@gmail.com

    Well it is unsanitary and I suggest
    the Spanish Government needs
    to get there act together. This
    is not the the 1700s.

    • Sincerely, Spain

      We would agree that it is unsanitary! Unfortunately, it’s mostly privately-owned businesses (restaurants, bars, clubs) where we experience these conditions and so we’re not sure if there is much the government can do about it. At the very least, in recent times (with the threat of COVID-19) we have noticed more cleanliness at such bathroom. Albeit this may be related to the kinds of establishments we are willing to go to during these times. Thanks for your comment!

  • K

    What a load of rubbish. Have lived in Costa Blanca area in Spain over two years and have found the toilets clean, almost always well stocked and in general far better than the uk. A lot of the hygiene facilities include hand dryers, which I am not a fan of but often the restaurants have paper towels. Even the markets have decent toilets with a cleaner on hand to ensure toilet paper is available etc.

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