There’s a battle going on in the U.K.’s northern town of Hull. It’s all about toilets. A fast food chain, ‘Greggs’, regards itself as primarily a takeaway food establishment, but has a limited number of tables inside the premises for customers wishing to eat their purchases on site.
Hull City Council has determined that ‘Greggs’ is legally obliged to provide toilet facilities, given that some customers remain on the premises to eat. ‘Greggs’ says that’s rubbish. They maintain they’re a fast food outlet and as such are not required to provide said facilities. The case has gone to the court of appeal.
To anyone living in France, the idea that laws could force a shop to provide toilets would be considered Nirvana. The standard of facilities, even in most large supermarkets, is nothing short of disgraceful. And that’s if they exist at all.
Public toilets, of the type found in town car parks or market squares, are even more diabolical. Filthy, cobweb-ridden, stinking of stale urine and other detritus, a visit to one of these places can leave one reaching frantically for hand disinfectant, as there’s no likelihood of working washing facilities in these dark, damp, hovels.
Admittedly, things have improved somewhat since the 1980s. The ‘hole-in-the-ground’ out the back is more of a rarity, though has certainly not disappeared completely.
It all makes travelling around France something of a fraught experience, particularly on Sundays and Bank Holidays when major supermarkets – the main source of these facilities – are closed. Then one can only hold on and hope that a public loo will eventually appear, though often they don’t. Even if one does turn up eventually, it’s generally at the point one is so desperate the poor state of the internal plumbing becomes irrelevant. A rusty bucket would suffice, so long as it was out of public view.
Why this state of affairs has been allowed to continue for so long in a modern, civilised, nation like France is not immediately obvious, but soon becomes so after one has lived here for a short while. This is still very much a male dominated country. French men are quite happy to relieve themselves whenever and wherever they feel the need arises. It’s not uncommon to drive along a busy highway and pass parked cars, drivers facing a convenient tree with their backs to traffic, doing what comes naturally. Who needs a public toilet when the whole countryside is available for one’s needs?
Which begs the question: what do the women do? The answer is not immediately obvious. French women apparently have more decorum than their male counterparts. One never sees a woman crouching behind a tree while waving to passing motorists.
It can only be assumed their holding power is much greater than that of the average Frenchman, and they stay home on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
So there you have it. The owners of Greggs fast food emporium in Hull have the perfect solution to the legal problems that are blighting their business. All they need to do is move their entire fast food empire to France.
No-one will ever demand they install toilets over here. And, even if some interfering French official tried, they’d only have to dig a hole in the backyard.
“Greggs loses takeaway loo battle in Hull” BBC, May 18th 2016