Tourists Should Know The One Bizarre Thing Tons Of Toilets In Italy Don't Have

As a tourist, you can't help but have some baseline expectations for your destination — from weather to Wi-Fi, A/C to accessibility. If you're traveling to Italy, naturally, this bar can be set pretty high. Whether it's the anticipation of a life-changing pizza or life-changing art, Italy often meets, if not exceeds, these expectations. However, there is one bizarre thing that might catch you off guard: the lack of toilet seats in public restrooms — from the metro to the fanciest gallery.

Picture this: a full day of walking around Rome, the "Eternal City." You've had plenty of water from the free-flowing drinking fountains (called "nasoni," and there are 2,000 of them in Rome), maybe an espresso or two, and now it's time to go to the loo. You find a café, ask "posso usare il bagno?" and enter the washroom. The door barely closes, and the toilet paper roll is nowhere to be found. Lo and behold, a white porcelain throne without a seat — again. You wince and go about your business, thinking, "The Eternal City has an eternal toilet problem."

For tourists, this unexpected toilet info can be a source of discomfort and confusion. First-time visitors might be surprised or even distressed when encountering a toilet without a seat, not knowing whether this is standard or an oversight. Of course, some hotels, restaurants, and newer buildings will have standard toilets with seats maintained to an appropriate level of cleanliness. However, these are the exceptions.

Toilet-seat-free toilet seats

One might assume that toilet seat vandalism or theft is the primary reason; the truth is a little more complicated and humorous. The lack of toilet seats is largely due to toilet seats breaking and the crisis of restroom maintenance in Italy. The seats break due to insufficiently clean bathrooms, which leads customers to stand and squat on the seats. Thus, most businesses quietly agreed on a single solution: removing the toilet seats altogether! Replacing toilet seats in Italy is complicated and expensive: There are many sizes and shapes of toilets and no one-size-fits-all. Moreover, since seats are usually crafted from wood or porous plastic and the toilet itself is ceramic, having no seat makes the toilet easier to clean.

Here's a crash course on Italian toilets. First, you have the free public bathroom, a rare breed usually found in tourist centers. They are free to use, but may not have replenished resources, like toilet paper or soap. Second comes the paid public toilet. These are often separate buildings with an attendant and gated entry, costing between 50 cents and 1 euro to use. Finally, you have "private" bathrooms in establishments where you usually have to be a paid customer to enter, like in Italy's best museums or cafés. Bonus: You may even encounter a squat toilet, especially in old buildings. Those used to be popular in the early 20th century but have since fallen out of fashion. 

How to prepare yourself for the Italian toilet experience

Adapting to the Italian toilet involves embracing local customs and remembering that different cultures have different norms. After all, when in Rome, right? Not every convenience of home will be available abroad. Just as you adapt to different food and languages, adjusting to bathroom facilities is another aspect of the abroad travel experience.

Understandably, a toilet without a seat might seem off-putting. The cold, thin-rimmed ceramic can be uncomfortable. But you don't have to ignore the call of nature; you just need to prepare for the worst. The bathroom staple you won't want to forget for your next trip? Tissues and wet wipes. Cover the seat with paper and sit, or hover for a nice quad workout. If you're brave, try the "frog" like the locals and literally squat on the edges of the toilet.

Opt for higher-end businesses or facilities that look newly renovated, as they're more likely to have clean washrooms and toilets with seats. Children can usually go in for free. Otherwise, always carry spare change for a paid public toilet.

In all fairness, toilets without a toilet seat are not entirely unique to Italy; other European destinations, like France and Greece, are also guilty. The next time you're in Italy and need a toilet, don't be surprised by the lack of a toilet seat — just let it go, flush, and never look back.