I need to pee.

But seriously, I really need to pee… and I’ve been holding it for far too long. Did you know that making a habit out of “holding it” raises your chances of getting prostate cancer later in life? Yeah well, it does. So no Bangladeshi guy, I don’t want a friggin’ rose… not unless it comes with a pee pass.

I’m in Rome at the moment, doing the pee pee dance in front of the Pantheon to be exact, and apparently the Eternal City is positively devoid of free public restrooms. It’s a fact the guidebooks fail to mention alongside their gushing reviews of pizzerias that really, insider secret, aren’t any better than the ones you’ll find back home. You see that Rome? Not letting me pee freely = me pissing all over your prized Roman pizza. I’d be careful if I were you, your coffee will be next.

Maybe I’m being a little too hard on Rome because the “toilet issue” is in fact a sobering reality all across austerity wrecked Europe. You want to know why the United States is the most powerful country in the world? Yeah, we’re the world’s foremost military power and all that, but the secret that doesn’t need to dribble out of the leaked NSA cables to be known is this: we let our people pee when they damn well need to… and we don’t charge them for it.

I mean, naked European burgers are one thing, but letting people pee only if you can pick their pockets? That’s a damn human rights violation. That Europe, the continent that practically serves as the world’s human rights watchdog and contains the headquarters of most of the organizations and committees that lead the way in that regard, forces its citizens to either pull down their pants in public (facing possible fines or even criminal charges by doing so) or cough up as much as a euro to take a sacred piss is the definition of hypocrisy… and inhumanity.

Yeah, I could pay the 50 cents that it’ll cost me to pee in the little stalls set up inside Villa Borghese (The search for a free bathroom has taken me three kilometers… and counting) but I won’t. It’s the moral of the thing. And no, having to pay to use a public restroom does not mean you’ll find a cleaner restroom. Ask anyone who’s ever used one.

It’s outrageous really that they can even say that they have public restrooms. These aren’t public restrooms. These are restrooms for the one percent. The one percent that can afford to drop some cash every time they give in to one of the body’s more persistent and necessary functions. Tax the morons that line-up to have their photo taken with one of those toga-wearing Gladiator impersonators in front of the Coliseum, don’t take it out on those of us that simply answer to nature’s undeniable call!

So what happens? The people who can’t, or won’t, pay the pee pee tax must pull their pants down, find a dark little corner in an empty sidestreet and let flow. Except that it’s the 21st century and Rome no longer has any empty sidestreets, you’ll just wind up pissing on fake Gucci purses and iPhone covers. But that’s not the point, because even if it did, I’m not looking for a fucking prostitute, I’m looking for a place to do what the Lord made me.

Which brings me to the Vatican. Of all the places in the world, the home of the Catholic Church ought to be the one where I might find a little charity, right? Wrong. The only “public”  restroom I find here, just outside of St. Peter’s, charges a euro. The Pagan Pantheon charges less than that. Apparently, the only helping hand the Catholic Church is willing to offer their fellow man requires that he be under 12.

He is risen indeed.

I ponder these questions as I look for a place to lie, certain that the imminent explosion of my bladder will likely render me unable to walk, when I see a dimly lit cafe. I figure I have a couple minutes left maybe, so I hobble over (a full bladder affects my stride) and, standing behind the empty bar, look helplessly into the eyes of the barman. I see the bathroom key hanging on a nail just behind him.

“Bonjourno. Umm… eh, uh, dove banyo… per favore?”

The barman’s unblinking eyes don’t leave mine as he replies in cold, Super Mario English.

“The bathroom is for customers only.”

I try again, English this time.

“Good sir, please. I have been looking everywhere for a bathroom. If you don’t mind, I-”

“I mind. Customers only.”

“I don’t have diarrhea or anything, I just need to pee.”

“The answer is no.”

Right. Apparently, death will come in the form of an oily looking Italian in a candy-cane striped shirt wielding a pitcher of steamed milk. Or maybe not. As they say, when in Rome…

“You said customers only?”

He nods, his gaze on his fly strewn pastry case.

“Right. I’ll have a cappuccino then.”

He grunts, and turns towards the espresso machine.

“Might it be possible to have the key, now?”

With another grunt, he lifts the key off the nail and drops it on the counter.

I take it and hurry off to the toilet in the back before he can change his mind.

As a long stream of urine hits the back of the filthy toilet bowl, I let out a long sigh of relief. Hell and back.

I pass the bar on the way out. My cappuccino sits there, waiting for me. The barman is wiping down the end of the bar with a towel as I reach the exit.

“Scusa!” He yells, frozen to the spot.

“Ciao!” I say, before disappearing into the crowd swarming in front of Castel Sant’Angelo.

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3 comments

  1. alostenglishman · · Reply

    After living in Rome for 3 years, I can tell you there’s a pretty good amount of free public bathrooms. There’s plenty in the centre – just look for the white and green ‘WC’ signs at Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, the Colosseum, and many more of the main spots. And if you can’t see one, hotels and cafe’s are in fact required by law to let you pee for free.

    As for the Vatican, there’s a bathroom right in St Peter’s Square, with a big WC sign outside, and a sign inside specifically asking you not to tip the attendants.

    So maybe get things right before you criticise other cities and countries for not being up to your American standards.

    1. Dear Lost Englishman, thanks for the information (and for reading)! In regards to your last paragraph, to make things clear I never claimed this was an investigative piece on Rome public restrooms, only as my own personal experience one particular day. So as for your assertion that I ought to “get things right” before criticizing Rome’s, and to a larger extent, Europe’s, charging for the use of public restrooms, I never claimed to know the status of every single facility in the city. Unlike yourself, I have not lived here for 3 years, and if someone is indeed looking for information on where to pee freely, as would have also been useful knowledge to me on that particular day, I refer them to your no doubt comprehensive writing on the subject. My experience is as written. No signs asking for people not to tip in St. Peter’s (at least not in English) and when I did attempt to pee in a cafe toilet I was told I had to be a customer. My experience doesn’t make me wrong and I stand by my assertion that any “public” facility which charges (of which you ought to be well aware that Rome has many) desperate tourists (or locals) to pee are guilty of a most basic human violation. As for my perceived American exceptionalism which was written solidly tongue in cheek, perhaps in this way at least we are quite exceptional.

  2. jane faraday · · Reply

    Same experience today, and did not see any WC signs in those places…and as a woman there’s no other option!

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