English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

How Much to Spend a Penny?

The lock-you-in loos

Pretty loos

It costs 50 cents to wee in most public toilets in Vienna. It’s an expensive business, but it is taken very seriously by the toilet attendants who I think must have undergone some kind of military training, their regimens are so disciplined. Never cross the toilet attendant; always have small change ready and always wait for their instructions; if you don’t, you lay yourself vulnerable to a telling off.

There is a set of public toilets in the first district that is as well preserved as all the old buildings that line the expensive shopping street called Graben. They are a fine example of art deco and worth visiting as a tourist, I think. The first time I went I was very confused. I went into the toilet cubicle, tried to slide the door shut, but it wouldn’t close; the latch wouldn’t catch and it kept springing open. As I was wondering if there was any way I could use the loo and hold the door shut at the same time, the attendant came rushing through the open door from the other side, the men’s side. It was a male attendant, which bothered me slightly, but not as much as how he was grumbling at me for not waiting for him. I didn’t understand why I would have to wait for him if there wasn’t a queue, there was paper and the toilets were obviously clean. That was until he ushered me back inside my cubicle and started to close the door on me. I thought it very strange and oddly overly-chivalrous to think I’d need help closing the door, but then he locked me in from the outside. After a few seconds wondering what the hell was going on, I worked out the system. The attendants have to lock you in from the outside, so the door stays shut. I really hoped that I’d be able to get out when I wanted, but I then got on with the matter of trying to pee quietly, aware that a man was standing not far away able to hear my every tinkle.

To my relief I was able to open the door from the inside, but then had to contend with Mozart waving at me from the men’s section. What am I talking about? It was a Mozart street performer, painted in gold, smiling and waving at me in the loo. The toilet attendant found it hilarious when he saw me recoil and stumble. I was disorientated from the whole process of being locked in a toilet by a man and couldn’t cope with a dead pianist trying to communicate with me. With the toilet man still laughing at me I left, thinking that for 50 cents I’d had a whole lot of Viennese and Austrian culture.

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