Monday Dare: just in case

Every Monday, I’m picking from the List of Things to Try, Places to Go, Possible Acts that Help and Possible Fun to Have. It’s a list I made before The Project started and I’m still adding to it. If you have suggestions, please, feel free to throw them my way. I’m calling the list my Monday Dares, as I get overwhelmed just looking at the words “challenge” or “goal.”

This week: I will learn enough French to survive one weekend in a predominately French-speaking place.

A toilet attacked me in Paris two years ago. An elderly French gentleman tried to save me. His efforts proved to be futile, but I learned an invaluable lesson that day:

Practice selective thrift.

In this instance: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to finagle a free use from a pay-to-use outdoor pod restroom.

Don’t hang around a pod that is already occupied and wait for the door to open so that you can catch the sliding door before it shuts from the last “client’s” use. Let it shut! Here’s what happens when the door closes. Clever little spigots spray the interior with cleaners and disinfectants. If you jump in to save a few coins, guess who’s going to get cleansed and disinfected in an all-encompassing mist along with the toilet….YOU!

Bless you, Elderly Frenchman, wherever you are right now.

Elderly Frenchman did his best to warn me when I grabbed the sliding door, preventing it from shutting all the way and locking. He gave a rather long and animated explanation (with hand motions, even), pantomimed signs to let the door close, and made whirring noises while flailing his arms around. I didn’t understand a single word, so I smiled politely and threw in a “Merci” here and there for good measure.

He finally left, confident that he had schooled me thoroughly on pay-to-use toilets. He was wrong. I waited for him to turn the corner and slid inside. As soon as it closed, I understood what he was trying to say. A disinfecting is worth a thousand words….in any language.

That’s why I’m determined to learn (just barely) enough French to get around France. Or Canada. Or Djibouti.

I’m compiling a list of phrases to learn to avoid any future disasters. My list so far:

  • How much does this cost?
  • Can I have it for free?
  • Excuse me, sir, that is my buttocks. Please do not touch it.
  • Excuse me, ma’am, that is my buttocks. Please do not touch it.
  • You have an attractive face.
  • I am married.
  • No, I will never leave my husband. He is an excellent cook.

*Any suggestions for this list?

*Share your funny stories from travels elsewhere. If you don’t have one, then make one up; I’ll never know. Except, if I meet you one day in real life and I mention that time such and such happened, and you look at me with a blank stare. Then I’ll know you’re a liar. And we probably couldn’t be friends. You know what,  on second thought, don’t lie. If you don’t have an interesting story, just tell me a boring one. 

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  • Becky

    Ha ha! That is a great story. And I learned something too. Wear a raincoat when trying to get free potty use.


    “Your anus is disturbing my meal.”
    “How much for one night with the one with the lazy eye?”
    “Is it okay for me to touch in public here?”
    “Is Mr. Sukiyama attending today’s meeting?” (that’s the only thing I remember from Japanese.)

  • RollerScrapper

    Lol this was hilarious and reminded me of two things, a trip where I was afraid of squat toilets and a fellow tour participant tried to pantomime how to use one, and the alec baldwin snl episode… Je vous dre allez a la sal de bain (forgive me I don’t speak french)

  • areyoukiddingme

    You always have to know the words for “Where is the bathroom?” Fantastic story…I will take heed of your experience.

    Although I knew it was very bad form (and illegal) to get on the train in Italy without buying a ticket, apparently, the Italians sometimes like to live dangerously. I was fascinated by the conversation they were having with the conductor, even though I could only catch about 3 words out of 7. I think the four people each ended up with a $50 fine.

    Also, while walking in Rome on Christmas Eve, my sister and I got flashed…and I missed it! My sister didn’t though…

  • Elly Lou

    I learned how to say, “I can drive a space shuttle,” in Spanish just in case the world ends. Also, is it just me or does anyone else need to scream, “Hey fellas where Djibouti at?” each time you see the word? Just me? Well then, woot there it is.

  • bschooled

    Hahaha! I went to French Immersion, and I still never learned how to say “Excuse me, sir, that is my buttocks. Please do not touch it.”

    Let me know if you ever decide to learn Spanish. I lived in Guadalajara for a while, where I found out the hard way (aka. drunk at the bar) that “embarazada” does not mean “embarrassed,” but rather “pregnant’.

  • Elizabeth-Flourish in Progress

    Becky- Wear a raincoat AND bring something to cover your face AND hold your breath. It’s a practiced skill, but those extra coins jiggling in my pocket make it worth the trouble….not really.

    Noa- Oh, Noa. You used the word anus on my blog before I did. Sigh. =)

    Rollerscrapper- ohmygod, I hate squat toilets. I also hate those toilets at national parks that are actual toilets but with just a huge pit underneath. ewwwwwww saw the script for the skit. ha!

    areyoukiddingme-guess what! i had that on my list and then Harv convinced me that i had already talked about bathrooms enough, so i took it off!

    elly- so embarrassing, i only learned about djibouti from my daughter recently (a country in the horn of Africa) but i just love the sound of it. i’m really trying to use it as often as possible.

    bschooled- hahahahahahhahahahaha. that is all. i have nothing else for you.

  • Amanda @geekdetails

    I thin the “where is the lady’s restroom” is always a good one.

    I too had a fear of squatting toilets. I lived in Japan for 3 years and arrived pregnant and with a need to pee every 5 minutes. Our first time off base and me needing to pee had me in tears when I realized there was no American style toilet. I ran in to doorways at this point, there was no way I could squat without falling over and without peeing myself. It was awful!

  • Jennifer Clark

    My story takes place in Mexico. After a kayaking/snorkeling trip in which I was so motion sick I fed the fish, we (just me, actually, Miles was fine) staggered into a restaurant in search of refreshment. I asked for “a 7-Up or ginger ale” and left for the ladies room to change out of my swimsuit and into dry clothes. After a 20 MINUTE struggle, stomach roiling, I returned to the table and a tall glass of clear liquid on the rocks. I flopped into the chair, took a long pull on the straw and nearly died. It was a 7-Up and GIN.

    Actually, it went down rather well after I cushioned my delicate tummy with some tortilla chips.

    The lesson here? If your server speaks limited English, speak slowly and clearly.


    Oh LORD that was hilarious! I tried desperately to learn some French before my last trip and I failed miserably. I could order food, ask for the toilet, say please thank you and excuse me. That was pretty much it. It doesn’t come naturally for me and I think that it’s because Spanish was the language I learned in High School and college. Anyway, best of luck to you!

  • TheBabyMammaChronicles

    Hillarious! I love France. So many people try and say that the French are rude and stuck up but I didn’t find them so. We need some potty cleaning like that in America. Germs are yucky.

    So hard to come up with more good phrases you should learn when the ones you’ve already chosen are so great!

    I’m trying to think of a good travel story but can’t come up with anything that would compete with yours. Man, I’m totally striking out today!

  • pburt

    What a funny story. Alas I haven’t traveled enough to encounter self-disinfecting bathrooms…someday.

    Thanks for visiting my blog the other day.


  • Rainyday

    No travel stories to share… well, there was that once time in Montreal when Jay got the plague and vomited the whole time and we had a 28 hour train ride home together and because we were in love (but broke) we upgraded from economy seats to a roomette, the size of my kitchen table, where it turns out, the bed folds down out of the wall covering up the 2 comfy seats and the adorable little personal toilet. Still had a working sink, though, and a big window.

  • Qwendykay

    FYI.. those self cleaning toilets are also in San Francisco, just in case you decide to save a few cents while visiting the bay area.

  • Swimtaxi


    On a serious note for others reading, we try to use the BBC site to learn “tourist” language when we travel to a new country.

  • Rebecca

    AAAHH OUI OUI, has a French tale a comin which add some new dirty french vocab and give insight into Mr. Brainwash, more shall be revealed about the true French BRAIN, enjoy your witty writing style :)

  • Dasol

    Elizabeth your blog is like a mix between crack-cocaine and Twilight.

    Despite the loads of papers and problem sets on my desk, I read every single one of your posts in two days.

  • Elizabeth-Flourish in Progress

    Amanda- The physics of being a pregnant lady, it’s a fun and special experience, isn’t it.=)

    Jennifer- ohmyword. Seriously? Here’s the best thing about that situation. You have a funny story to tell over and over again. And you should…often. You earned it. That’s a good tip though. When I’m in an new place and I’m nervous, I talk way too fast and I mumble. I will not do that again.

    tincup- Back up….you could order food? That’s advanced. I can only say water and salt in three different languages.

    babymamma- I agree with you. I didn’t encounter a single rude person in Paris. Actually, I did,but he was a tourist from the U.S.

    Rainy- GET.OUT. You must have been in some SERIOUS LOVE to deal with that for 28 hours. Obviously, he’s a lucky man. Harv had the sniffles a while back and I made him sleep on a different floor.

  • Elizabeth-Flourish in Progress

    Qwendy- I have sworn off pod toilets forever. I will, however, let a potential user know the risk should I see him/her making the same mistake.

    Swimtaxi- I will do as you say.

    Dasol- You better be throwing that crack cocaine line out there for effect. Don’t let me find out you know about that stuff. I will come to your place and get “big sister” on you.

  • Velvet Verbosity

    I’m sure I’ve got a funny travel story but it’s way past my bedtime and the only one coming to mind happened in Quebec. I was taking my first public transportation and in a foreign city (I know it’s Canada, shut up). Public transportation is confusing enough when in your native language.

    I pleaded in English and a few poorly pronounced french words to the woman next to me to help me lest I be stuck on that bus FOREVER. She insisted she didn’t understand, but I pressed on, a ball of babbling panic.

    Just as I thought I would faint from the stress of it all, she sighed and in perfect english said, “this is your stop”.


  • Kristyn

    Liz, every time I read your blog it reassures me why we have been friends since 8th grade! Let’s see….I was at a service in Notre Dame cathedral with my cousin, enjoying the beauty and powerfulness of the experience, when a European man with his family walked up to my cousin and bitched her out for ruining his experience by not wearing underwear while in the church. There is NO way this man could have seen what was under my cousins knee length totally appropriate skirt unless he had been crawling down the aisle on his stomach to take communion. WTF???

  • Elizabeth-Flourish in Progress

    Velvet- Here’s the thing…I kinda think she went home that night and patted herself on the back for having compassion and helping a stranger. Bitches are funny like that.

    Kristyn- I’m sitting here, picturing this, and I’m just speechless…and confused. I don’t have anything to say. Granted, it’s 7:56 a.m., and it’s difficult to think about underwear and Notre Dame and weird men at that time, but still….. =)

  • Rachel

    I knew just about zero French when I headed over there this summer…my suggestions – take someone that knows enough of the language and attach yourself to her/him! When I was haggling at the Brochantes I did wish I knew how to say “this silly American wants to give us how much for old ribbon? and do you think she’ll really pay 50 euros for old paper??” I imagined that was what I was hearing….though I wasn’t for sure :)

  • ar

    external sliding doors
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  • Gina L

    Your blog is fabulous. You make me smile on days when I’m ready to deliver a royal smack down to some unsuspecting a-hole who thinks he’s doing me a favor when he’s really just taking up my breathing air.

    So, anyhow…my funny story. My husband and I were in Austria, walking to the Fortress Hohenwerfen. It sits at the top of this mountain. By this point in our trip, I’d had about enough of walking up the paths going to these types of places. I’d lost 9 pounds from all of the walking we’d been doing (no lie, it is tell the truth Monday, you know). We saw a sign that said we could pay 3 euros each for an elevator. Well, I was all about that. What we missed was the sign that pointed around the corner for the elevator. We saw a path that said “Hohenwerfen” and took it. As we climbed, and climbed, and climbed, I kept searching for the damned elevator. My husband, being the encouraging, want to strangle him because he’s so positive type, kept reassuring me that it couldn’t be much further. Fast forward at least 45 minutes of walking up this steep ass mountain and we come to the admission booth. Luckily, the clerk spoke English. I told her I wanted two tickets for the elevator. She said, “the elevator down?” I said, “no, the elevator up.” She said,”but, you already ARE up.” Yeah…just walk through the gate and up another 30 paces or so and it’s the top of the mountain. Not my best moment. And really, I test high on those IQ tests. As my ex said, I’m the smartest airhead he knows. LOL

  • Elizabeth – Flourish in Progress

    rachel- it’s the little things like getting taken advantage of in a foreign country that make life so wonderful

    gina-HAHAHAHA. Don’t worry girl, I wasn’t laughing at you….I was laughing with you. No, that’s a lie. I was laughing at you. Sorry about that.