Updated on 3/14/2022 from 10 to 12 tips. With little culture shock other than language, it’s easy for Americans to quickly slide into a relaxing pace and enjoy the history, food, wine, and la dolce vita of Italy. There are, however, just a few things that Americans visiting Italy for the first time a little shock-and-oh! Like walking into a bathroom and not knowing what a bidet is, to paying to use a public bathroom in Italy.
Bathrooms in Italy 12 Tips for Americans
What follows is a list of things that surprised me the first time I encountered them in Italian bathrooms both private and public. For a look outside the bathroom check out my list of differences between Italian homes vs American homes. Now close the door, it’s about to get personal.
1. Most Italian Bathrooms Do Not Have a Bathtub
When you consider that Italian homes are among the smallest in Europe, it’s not surprising that some of the amenities Americans are used to just don’t fit in Italian bathrooms. Take for example a bathtub. Bathtubs are far less common in Italy and shower stalls are tiny.
2. Showers in Italy are Tiny
Most Italian showers fall into that category of box doccia (box showers). The kind one must squeeze into sideways and close two doors together to form a claustrophobic, watertight corner. Men will bash elbows while washing pits. Ladies shaving long legs, practice your Flamingo, it’s Shower Yoga Time. Why so small?
3. Italian Bathrooms Have a Bidet
Blame the bidet. Hotels and homes alike in Italy have standalone bidets which hog space. Are you supposed to mount it, sit on it, turn the tap on with your arms behind your back… what!? If you’re a person who prepares ahead of time here’s how to use a bidet. It’s a quirky thing to use the first time, butt it’s worth a try. Sorry, couldn’t resist getting cheeky! Speaking of Cheeks.
4. Bidet Towels
If your hotel bathroom has a bidet take note. Most American hotels provide washcloths. In Italy, the small towels are for your other cheeks. If your hotel provides towels smaller than a bath towel, but larger than a washcloth, check to see if there is a towel rack or hook next to the bidet…. with me now? That towel is for your other cheeks. I’m sure the hotel has done an exemplary job on their laundry and that towel could be used for your face, but if the last traveler was European, they probably used it on the correct cheeks. Just saying!
5. Most Italian Hotels Do Not Provide Toiletries
Missing toiletries is not the mark of a bad hotel in Italy. 5 stars, you’re probably awash in luxury bath products, but for the average traveler on a budget, forget it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a rip-n-squeeze “wash” packet, but that’s likely it. Pack toiletries or leave time to run to the market when you land. Once outside your host’s home or the hotel, it’s time to know what to expect from public bathrooms in Italy.
6. Italian Public Bathrooms are Usually Clean
Public bathrooms in Italy are a little different than bathrooms in America. Take for example the public bathrooms in transit stations. When I lived in New York City you couldn’t pay me enough to use a subway or train station bathroom. In Torino, Italy Porta Nuova train station bathrooms are some of the cleanest public bathrooms in town. There’s a reason for it.
7. Pay to Pee in Public Bathrooms in Italy
When sprinting for a public loo, be prepared to hand a bathroom attendant or machine blocking the door 1€. Public bathrooms in Italy are not free. So pocket that change after lunch. It’s ok, Gratuity is included and additional tipping is not expected in Italy.
8. You Can Find Bathrooms in Italian Coffee Shops
Yes, you can always find a bathroom in an Italian coffee shop, but those bathrooms are for customers only. Especially in Italy. 1€ buys you a welcoming wave in answer to “dov’è il bagno?” Just act casual and always order and drink your coffee first. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. Italians drink their coffee like a shot of tequila standing at the bar.
9. Italian Gas Stations Have Unisex Bathrooms
If you are driving through Italy, do not skip Italy’s Gas Stations, they are magically amusing. Food actually looks good and aisles are filled with tons of kid’s toys, culinary gifts, and of course porn mags. As you make your dash for the back. If you do not see a male/female sign, it’s unisex.
10. Public Bathrooms in Italy Do Not Have Toilet Seats
Once you’ve paid for your coffee and dash to the bathroom, don’t be surprised if there is no toilet seat. Toilet seats are rare in public bathrooms in Italy. It’s weird and yes uncomfortable but hey, it’s probably easier to clean right?
Wondering why toilets in Italy don’t have seats? The video below (at about 4 minutes) proposes a reason, though I’m not sure I completely buy it. The video states that people who don’t want to sit on the toilet seats in Italy stand on them, breaking them. I’m not sure I fully buy it. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below?!
POST UPDATE: I almost can’t believe this, but after watching the video above about the reason there are no toilet seats in Italy, I’ve come across not one, but two broken toilet seats here in Italy. In both cases, they were in public bathrooms. Personally, I still don’t believe it’s because Italians stand on them. More likely one of the main producers of toilet seats in Italy created a cheap product that breaks. Over time it’s likely easier just not to replace them. Thus, public bathrooms in Italy often do not have toilet seats because the original cheap toilet seats break and are never replaced.
11. Squat Toilets
The first time you run across a squat toilet in Italy, suddenly that missing toilet seat is going to be put into perspective. In smaller Italian towns there is a decent chance a local bar or restaurant with only have one stall and it’s going to be a squat toilet. The kind where a floor pan with a hole between footplates is built directly into the floor. Be sure to be on the lookout for a button or pull cord because most squat toilets in Italy actually do flush. Even Italians roll their eyes at this one. That’s just one of the charms of Italy though. Not everything is modern.
12. Footpedal Sinks
When it’s time to leave a public bathroom in Italy, there might be just one more surprise waiting for you. Turning on the water in the sink. It might sound funny, but some older public bathrooms in Italy have sinks operated by foot-pedal. So if you find yourself waving at the sink like an old long-lost friend to no avail, look to your feet. If there is a pedal on the floor (usually red) step on it, and there you go!
Now least I sound all negative, let’s bring this back into perspective. As an American, this is about the only culture shocking you’ll find beyond the language. Not bad right! It’s just subtle cultural differences that are fun to experience and get to write home about. Besides, I’ll take a mini-fridge stocked with 7€ bottles of wine over a free bar of soap any day. What’s the most surprising moment you’ve had while finding a loo on vacation?