Public toilets are of course part and parcel of everyday life. It is useful, however, to know exactly what it is you are looking for in any given country.
In some cases it is easy - for example, most English speaking countries refer to the toilet as a toilet. There is of course the notable exception of America, where it may be referred to as "the bathroom", "the restroom" or in some cases by its name, John1.
In France, do not ask for le cabinet de toilette as you are likely to be shown to the airing cupboard - it is better to ask for les toilettes in polite company, and if you are really desperate le pissoir. At least your hosts will know what you mean, even if they are embarrassed.
In England, you can ask for 'the bog' if you are in a pub, 'the little boy's room' or 'the girl's room' if you are in prudishly polite company, or 'the loo' - but 'where is the toilet?' will get you where you need to go (if you'll excuse the pun).
There is of course an etiquette to using a public toilet. Firstly you enter the convenience and glance around. If you see members of the opposite sex, it is likely that you are in the wrong place - pop outside and check the sign on the door. If you are relatively certain that you are in the correct place (and one can never be too sure) approach the proper area. Do not under any circumstances make eye contact with any other patron - no-one else wants to know that you are there.
Speech in men's toilets is only allowed if it is the comment variety. 'Ooooooh damn I needed that' and 'For this relief, much thanks' are acceptable. 'Who butchered a pig in here?' is not. In ladies' toilets discussion of make-up and boyfriends is mandatory, which is why ladies always travel to the toilet in pairs.
After relieving yourself, approach the basins and wash your hands - this is a ritual only, as the vast majority of people who use public toilets don't wash their hands, and when you push the door open you will inevitably load your hands with more germs than you washed off.
Before leaving the toilet, perform these simple checks:
- If you are wearing trousers, ensure that your fly is fastened.
- For anyone wearing a skirt, make sure it isn't tucked into your knickers.
- Check that there is no toilet paper adhering to your shoes.
1 It is not known why all American toilets are named John - it can only be assumed that there was an overzealous, if somewhat unimaginative, plumber who applied the name in the first place.