Friday, 13 June 2008

Paying to pee

One of the pet peeves of people, foreigners in particular, is having to pay to pee. And yesterday was the peak, with the pee issue peeving me more than ever before.

The kids had their check-up at the maternal health nurse, which included an eye-test for Makaila and a vaccination for Kieran - previous encounters had made me somewhat apprehensive about how both of these events would pan out, so I bribed them with a visit to the toy store. It worked.

Trouble is that in the midst of browsing around Kalikå at Skanstull Kieran needed to pee. It is a small shop and they had a loo, but the lady working there said that as they have to clean the toilet themselves they do not allow customers to use it!! I pointed out it was my son that needed it, and that little kids can't hold on for long. But no, in good Swedish style she stated that rules are rules and he could not use the toilet. I was furious, to say the least. Through clenched teeth I assured her that she had lost a sale and that we would NOT be back.

She directed me to Åhlens, a couple of shops away, and we raced in there looking for a toilet, only to be told they did not have one either. WHAT?! A big department store does NOT have a public toilet? Do these stupid people have any clue about customer service?? By this stage I was ready to blow my top, a rare occurrence from me in a public place. But I was just anticipating the trickling down Kieran's leg. I dragged them out of there, cursing at the idiocy of such poor service, when a kindly fellow-customer directed me to the blood bank.

In I went, imploring the staff to let my son use their toilet. And they did. I thanked them profusely, explaining how difficult it had been to find a public toilet in a short amount of time.

If I had been asking for myself, I could understand that a shop has a policy, and I wouldn't be thrilled about cleaning toilets others have used (mind you I have done it many times in my pub work). But I was in a toy store, buying something for my children, when one of them needed to use the toilet. Is it not common sense to let that child use it - do they not want to make money? I walked across the road and spent over 600 kr (100 dollars) on my kids and a birthday present. How stubborn and short-sighted can people be?

The other pet peeve with this whole toilet business is that it costs to use a toilet!! We were in the midst of a busy shopping district and if we had been over at Ringen, the Mall or shopping centre, we could have used the public toilet for the cost of 5kr (about a dollar). Again I say, customer service, do they not know what that is? I am there spending my money, can the shops not go together to pay for the cleaning??

It even blows me away that Åhlens in town do not have a service where they allow Åhlens card-holders to use the toilets free of charge - are they just not thinking or do Swedes have a toilet issue??

I often spend my days working at the State Library in Odenplan - I can be there most of the day and it costs me 5kr every time I need to use the loo!!! It just eats away at you. I'm happy to contribute to their costs - but let me do it in some other way than fulfilling one of our basic human needs!!

I remember when the Australian government of the time passed a law that no-one could ever be denied access to a public toilet, nor was it any longer legal to charge for their usage. I remember going in to the public loos in Bourke street, outside Myer, I was a teen and I clearly remember the relief - I no longer needed to try and hold it because I didn't have change on me.

Sweden wants the tourists, they want to attract professionals and businesses, but they are missing some of the basics. Despite the common habits of the locals - it is NOT OK for men to pee on the street, in lifts, or in any corner they can hide, it is NOT OK for teens to spit big globs on the pavement, it is NOT OK to spit out tobacco on the street, it is NOT OK to charge to go to the toilet and it is NOT OK to have so few public toilets.

It is time they cleaned up their act!!
Ok, I will get off my loo, ooops, I mean soap box!


  1. Just wanted to comment, that the most annoying thing about having to pay to use the toilet, is that the toilets are often still dirty, overfull bins, tissue on the floor etc.
    You kinda of think 'if I'm going to pay 5:- then surely it will be nice'
    A theory I have is that there basically is not enough people who wish to work cleaning toilets and therefore the cost to have it done by shops/companies is very high??

    TOPS - via MIS

  2. I will also just add that the cost of using the loo in Åhlens in the centre now has gone up to 10 kronor! I had injustice rage the rest of the day. But yes, peeing, spitting and disposing of snus in the street is absolutely disgraceful and sadly very common over here - I simply wait for the day my baby puts someone else's used snus in his mouth.

  3. I think the toy store worker's ignorance is part of a larger problem with customer service in Sweden. And how about when you put in your 5kr to use the bathroom and the door doesn't open? Your blog also got me thinking about the spitting, I can forsee a future olympic event of dodging the spitwads on the sidewalk...

  4. A toy store not having free toilet facilities available for their little customers is unforgivable. Coming from the US where every mall, every eatery, every grocery, and particularly every restaurant has free restroom facilities, this has been an aspect of life in Sweden that has most surprised and disappointed us. This lack of free public facilities have not doubt encouraged some of the more unsavory public displays we have observed in our 8 month here. We have seen grown men pee in barely concealed shelters, children pee (& once poo, poor thing couldn't help it, I guess) at a large public park and not to mention the spitting. My 7 year old finds this public spitting culture the most disgusting part of living in Sweden.

    I think it would be wonderful for foreign visitors, but mainly the residents of Sweden, if the Swedish govt. nationally, or just even the city governments, could make it mandatory for places of public usage to have free toilet facilities. From what I have seen of Sweden, they have a great respect for "rules" here, so any improvement this problem might have to come in the form of a new "rule" from the Govt..

    What gets me the most about using paid toilets is not that I have to pay, but that I have to have the exact denomination, say a 5 Kr piece, to pay with. And all those times when a public toilet has taken my only 5 Kr piece and failed to open...Grrr.


  5. What gets me is why MEN can pee free! Not talking about the street corners or the lifts which my family have renamed “Piss Hiss” for obvious reasons, but standard public facilities where men can pee free.

    Where women are required to pay but men can pee free has to be one of the most outrageous discrimination issues we women are subject to whilst walking the streets of Stockholm. Women have enough extra expense on the issue of sanitary requirements without the added financial burden of paying to pee.

    When I am with my son, be it Sweden's biggest shopping centre or elsewhere if he needs to pee and the boys facility is free, I never hesitate to stand up straight and walk straight in to the boys room. (Okay I pause at the door to take a breath because often they stink to high heaven.) I will not allow my son to be subject to discrimination, because he is out shopping with his mother.

    This blog makes me think of a poem I recall reading on a public toilet door ….

    Here I sit silent hearted, paid 10 cents and only farted.

  6. I agree. Swedes need free wees. sam

  7. If you have to pay to pee, the restrooms should be at least clean.

    I don't really like seeing men peeing on the side of the road for all to see.

  8. Just came back from a trip to Beijing, China and although I must say that if you think there is a spitting problem in Sweden, then just go to China for a few days and you won't even notice people spitting in Sweden anymore ;)

    However, I was actually positively surprised to realise that all public toilets were free! Now, not every place had toilets availble, but most places did and they did not cost anything and were relatively clean. Although the hole in the ground toilet isn't my favorite... So I agree, if they can be free in an upcoming economy like Beijing, then they should be free in Stockholm! I usually refuse to pay and wait until I get to a café, but with kids you can't do this...

  9. Well i can't say that i have really thought about the fact that we have to pay to use the loo - but what really makes me mad is paying for a loo which is filthy dirty. i put my 5 kr into the loo in solna centrum, it was the loo for the cafe on the concourse, cant remeber the name, but it was absolutely filthy stinking and minging in there. i wont go into details - suffice to say it was rotten. I honestly wouldnt mind paying if i though i was getting something for it - like a prestine clean smell freindly toilet. I feel pretty mad to pay and get to pee in what looked like a crack den. I never touch anything in the toilets here - not the door handle the flusher - nothing - i use my elbowa, & a sleeve covered hand - this does say a little about my ocd with germs!! Can you imagine the amount of germs on door handle of a public toilet - eeyyuuk

  10. If the paytoilets were all clean as the pay toilets in germany, then maybe i can find reason in having to pay. But if 1 shopping mall can provide reasonably neat toilets for free, i dont know why others cant! I have had experiences where ppl stay outside the toilets waiting for someone else to pay and use and when they come out, hold the door so that they can use it next without paying.
    I hate the fact that some toilets take only 5kr coins and do not have a change machine near by, the pay toilets are dirty and kids need to pay.

  11. Having 3 children I find it pretty annoying to have to pay to pee - let's face it in a 2 hour fika/shopping trip we can hit the toilets 6 times and a 5kr per pee it starts to add up.
    Hats off to Kista Gallerian who DON't charge when children go to the toilet!
    Also must complain that in most shopping centres there just aren't enough toilets or they are oddly located.

  12. During my first trip to Sweden from the UK I was horrified by the state of the pay toilets, so much so it was one of the first comments I made back home when asked what Sweden is really like! Such a shame as you have a beauliful country.

    There are only a few places here where you need to pay, and as much as I think it is a disgrace to pay to fulfil such a basic human need atleast they are usually very nice and fresh and often have little extras like moisturing cream for your hands.

    When I move to Sweden next year I will be so embarrassed if my relatives visit and need to use a swedish publis toilet!