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Oh, no! you say, such a lot of potty talk lately! Believe me, I'd rather chat about French farm hens or even Frango mint shakes (how I miss them!) but when you gotta go, you gotta go, and we all need to go forth in this, the language of love or, shall we say, "lav"?
"Alors ça, maman, c'est passionnant!" Why, mom, that's just fascinating! my son says with false enthusiasm when I tell him I am working on the Toilet edition and could he help me with the French equivalent of "lavatory"? I ask if I can share the word "chiotte" (can, john) worried it might be vulgar (though I hear it all the time!).
"Mom, don't do it!" he warns. "Why can't tomorrow's 'word of the day' be 'inquiétant'?"
"Worrisome" for tomorrow's word? Well, okay, I can take a hint. Even so...on with the show!
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les waters (lay wah-tair) noun, masculine, plural
toilet, loo, lavatory
(from the English term "water-closet")
Dans mon experience, s'il faut allonger la jambe gauche pour maintenir fermée la porte des waters, c'est l'architecture moderne. In my experience, if you have to keep the lavatory door shut by extending your left leg, it's modern architecture. --Nancy Banks Smith
When Max returned from his school trip to Venice I wondered what most impressed him about the famous City of Water. The gondolas? The singsong accent of the Italians? The shimmering canals? The pizza?
Forget pizza, what my son remembered most were the pigeons and the potties. As for the first, they were everywhere and in abundance in the Piazza San Marco* and they danced around (and over!) the children to the utter delight of all. Regarding the second, well, no one seemed privy to where the potties were.... But like anywhere else in the world, money talks.
"I only had eighty centimes," Max complained.
"You mean you paid EIGHTY centimes to use the bathroom?!"
"No, mom. I paid one euro. I was short twenty centimes but another kid loaned me the money. Oh, by the way--we owe him!"
One euro to use the petit coin?* On second thought, I do remember the parent teacher meeting where the teachers talked about toilets being an issue on a trip like this. One doesn't just mosey on into a café, then dart over to the restroom. And the old European standby of ordering an espresso (cheapest thing on the menu) in order to use the toilet wasn't a solution (one couldn't exactly order fifty-five espressos--for as many students--and then line up)! Besides, kids like cola and so the dilemma just turns into a vicious circle.
"They were so clean!" Max exclaimed, remembering the waters.* (That's "wah-tair" and the second rhymes with "hair.") Well, I hope the expensive restrooms were clean! And for one euro I hope Max took his sweet time. "You were entitled to at least fifteen minutes for that price!" I informed my son of his rights. Why, in a Sanisette (one of those enclosed, automatic toilets found along busy Parisian streets) one euro equaled over half an hour of toilet rent.
These days you no longer have to pay for Sanisettes and many free toilets exist across France, just look for the signs "WC" (pronounced vay say). But, as the old French saying goes, "les bonnes affaires coûtent chères," or "a good deal is costly." It might even cost you your pants.... Returning from Sainte Cécile last Sunday, I pulled
into a rest stop and waited as a woman approached the outdoor lavatory. Beyond the wooden door was a Turkish toilet or "squat pot," that is, a hole in the ground with a grid on either side in which to place one's feet. The woman wavered. Next, she bent forward, reached down to her pant legs, and began
rolling them up. She took care to zip her coat pockets shut, not wanting the contents to fall into the loo. After a slight pause, she reached down again, this time double-knotting her long shoelaces so that no part of her person (apart from the soles of her shoes) could possibly come into contact with, or so much as drag across, the stall floor.
Zipped, tied, double cuffed, and no longer hesitant, into the waters she went....
la Piazza San Marco = Saint Mark's Square; le petit coin ("the little corner") (m) = restroom; les waters (mpl) = lavatory
:: Audio Clip :: click the following sentence to hear this sound file:
Dans mon experience, s'il faut allonger la jambe gauche pour maintenir fermée la porte des waters, c'est l'architecture moderne.
Où sont les toilettes? = Where is the restroom?
Où sont les w.c. (vay say)? = Where is the toilet?
French language crafts and projects magazine
Stone (Granite) Mortar and Pestle -- a must for French pistou!
Rosetta Stone French (CD-ROM) -- "an award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps"
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi