Because people always want to know, and are shy to ask.
Toilets in Italy are of two varieties: either so sparkling clean that a speck of dust would die of loneliness, or the kind where you don’t want anything of yours to come into contact with anything of theirs. You can’t tell the difference from the outside.
First of all, and I cannot stress this enough, always bring Kleenex. I keep one tucked in my bra at all times, just in case, and have been grateful for it more than once..
If there is no toilet seat, do not assume it has been stolen or that you are in a ghetto bathroom. Toilet seats are the exception, not the rule. Develop your squat muscles before coming, or get used to the feeling of cold porcelain.
Be flexible. If there is a button, push it. If there is a handle, toggle it. If there is a pedal, step on it. If there is a panel with two ovals on it, one large and one small, press the small one for a quick rinse of the bowl, and the large one when you need a definitive, more powerful flush and swirl action.
BUT proceed with caution if there is a cord! Some of them will flush the toilet, while others will call for emergency assistance. And you may not want to explain the nature of your emergency.
Hotel and cafe staff will readily allow you to use “i servizzi” and will signal with a quick jerk of the hand which direction it’s in. If they go into a burst of quick Italian, they are probably telling you the toilets are reserved for customers only, so buy an espresso. A euro well spent, even if you don’t drink it.
If you can’t find the light switch, wave your arms vigorously to activate the energy-saving motion sensors. In the basement of our hotel there are three motion sensors for the bathroom – one for the mirrored bathroom foyer (which gives you a bit of a shock when the lights first come up), one for the room containing the stalls, and one for each individual stall.
I enter the foyer by describing a wide circle with my left hand, making another wide circle with the right hand as I enter the stall area, and then two quick waves with both hands upon entering the stall itself. If you had seen me on video, I would have looked like the conductor of the orchestra. If the lights go out while you are still occupied, do not panic, a quick wave overhead as if you are shooing a fly will correct the situation.
In the washrooms at the entrance to Pompeii, there is a notice over the tiny sink that reads “The sink is for washing hands only,” so if any of you have alternative intentions, be warned.
That was also the only place we had to pay – 50 euro cents for a woman to hand us a paper towel to dry our hands. Places that charge will always be well supplied and clean., so don’t complain!
The busier toilets in the food court of Pompeii (yup, you heard me) were a different story. Of three sinks, two were wrapped in plastic pending repairs; of six stalls, four had labels translating to “out of service” in several languages, and a man with a bucket lounged in the area at all times to flush the two remaining stalls periodically.