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they know us by our trails

Yesterday I saw a woman crouch between two parked motorcycles on my street, lift up her skirts, and pee.

This afternoon it was a little boy at a bus stop across the way. As his mother fussed with his baby sister, fastening the pink straps of her stroller, he unzipped the front of his pint-sized pants and peed onto the sidewalk. His four-year-old urine mixed with the rain.

City as toilet. Even with so many free public potties dotted throughout Paris, I’ve still seen more street peeing in my time here than anywhere else I’ve been in the western world.

Public peeing knows no race, no age, no class. It knows only desire.

The town’s hygiene workers have to clean an average 56,000 sq metres of urine-splashed surfaces per month — a figure that rises to 65,000 in summer.

The highest penalty for urinating in public was dealt to Pierre Pinoncelli, a Frenchman who was fined 45,122 euros (£31,400) in 1998 for relieving himself into artist Marcel Duchamp’s modern art urinal, called Fountain — said to be worth £1.9 million.

He described his “attack” as a surrealist act.

Parisians have battled the public pipi for years. First, there were the pissoirs — open-air urinals, geared mainly toward male offenders. Next came the Sanisette — a multi-purpose, self-cleaning WC, mostly free and happily open for use by men, women, children, bums and tourists alike.

Yet despite their ubiquity, these public loos have not deterred even the most casual of urinaters. Paris is their turf, and it is there to be marked. They may not own their homes, have gardens or access to green spaces, but the sloped streets — yellow trickling downhill — are theirs.


  1. Yo Yo March 10, 2009

    I’m surprised it took you this long to write about it, remember that grown ass man who pulled out and sprayed Barbes?? damn shun! i don’t even know what to say.

  2. Susana Susana March 11, 2009

    Men is one thing, but women and children? That little boy is obviously part of a pipi-positive family, because his mom did not try and stop him from letting loose.

    Paris is like one giant public toilet. Along with all the Chanel, the Louboutin, the furs, the cigarettes. A big, hacking, expensive toilet.

  3. Laurent Laurent March 13, 2009

    My strongest memory of the only visit to Paris is the stench of pipi in the metro. I can’t think of another French city where it’s as bad as Paris.

  4. maia maia March 13, 2009

    ha ha ha i live in cairo now and peed on the street last night. have never been to paris but i bet that cairo could give it some competition…in the public urination department…

  5. johngomi johngomi April 23, 2009

    that’s funny my first take with paris was coming in from koln, germany after working all week & grabbing a cab straight from train station to my hotel in the cliche(sp?) i got hungry & was walking fhe 2 blks to grab food i was amazed a @ the amount of dog crap that was everywhere. so i guess between the people peeing & the animals crapping paris really is a giant toilet. I STILL LOVE IT THOUGH!!!HAAHAHAHA

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