Public Toilets

Let’s Go Israel- Public Bathrooms

Today I need to talk about something not fit for dinner table conversation. Something every tourist needs to know. Something that can  turn into a humiliating disaster if not dealt with properly….Public bathrooms.

Every frequent traveler knows that the condition of public restrooms, both abroad and in the USA, ranges from the clean and well appointed to the “never again.” What’s described below, while specific to Israel, holds true virtually everywhere.

In all probability,  while you’re busy calling on different tourist hot spots, nature will inevitably call on you. And when she calls you’ll have to answer, even if it causes you great inconvenience. So here’s the lowdown on public bathrooms in general and in Israel specifically:

In Israel, you need to know the Hebrew word for bathrooms – SHERUTIM (SHAY_ROO_TIM).  ”AYFOE” means where. HA means the. So the proper phrase is AYFOE HASHERUTIM? (Where  are the bathrooms?). Memorize this phrase. Say it over and over till you can just rattle it off without thinking. Even if you don’t understand the answer you get when you ask, if you look puzzled people will probably point you in the right direction. Then you can walk that way and ask the next person.

Public bathrooms in Israel can be found in malls, eateries, gas stations, large supermarkets, etc. However, as in the States, the quality varies greatly, as does the extent of the accessories-i.e. toilet paper, soap, the means to dry your hands and locks. To make this post more useful, I’ll break the bathroom down into its various components.

First and foremost, the TOILET itself.

They’re easy to recognize, since most are standard shape. But check out these toilets in the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem.

Mamilla Toilets

Toilet For Squares?

Wonder whom they’re designed for.

Also, look carefully at the picture on the door signifying the intended user. Those international pictures are approaching androgyny. A cursory glance may result in a very embarrassing situation and lots of loud screaming directed at you in a language you don’t understand, which is probably a good thing.

Once you’re finally inside the right bathroom, check out the toilet. The state of cleanliness of the toilet itself concerns the female of the species more than you men, as you don’t really care much about the appearance of the receptacle you use. Anything looking like a toilet will do. Actually, any place where no one can see you will do. So, men, you can just skip this section and move on to the next one.

Now ladies, there’s not much to do about the cleanliness of the receptacle itself, so I’ll focus on the seat. (Not too carefully of course, or we’d never use public bathrooms.) Very few places have disposable seat covers. You know, those thin paper sheets that are virtually impossible to separate from the box without tearing, thus defeating their purpose. You won’t see many of them in Israel.

Also very difficult to find are those seats already fitted with a paper seat cover which replace the old paper cover with a new one at the press of a button. Of course, you’re never sure if the previous user pressed the button upon completion, so you have to press the button anyway before using. Even then, who’s to say that that the new paper is really new, not just recycled.

Beware of the “Yellow Rainmakers” Yes, Israel also has yellow rainmakers. These are the females who “do the squat,” but don’t have good aim. They leave the evidence of their failure (yellow raindrops) on the toilet seat and sometimes on the floor.


Again, this is more of an issue for women than men.

Maybe most public restrooms start the day with toilet paper, but by late afternoon many stalls seem to have exhausted their supply. So ladies, before using the facilities, you must quickly check the stall you are about to enter to see if it has toilet paper. If not, move rapidly to the next one. Keep checking until you find one with paper, or decide to go elsewhere, if that’s possible. (Moving too slowly may result in another woman getting the stall with the toilet paper, thus requiring you to wait until she vacates that stall.) Even if you luck out and find a stall with paper, be careful. Some toilet paper holders are only closed on one end, (see photo below) which means that tugging the roll improperly will result in the roll crashing to the floor, or even worse, into the bowl.

Israel Toilet Paper Holder

See me roll.


Who needs soap? We all do, except that’s not what the owners of many restroom facilities think. While some public bathrooms have soap, many do not.


Most bathrooms have some form of hand dryers, but many don’t. Here are the most common types:

Paper Towels: A vanishing species. Even if the holders are there, they often do not contain anything. Paper towels are probably being eliminated because they are messy, costly, require frequent replacement and actually do the job they are intended for.

Hand Blowers: The old-fashioned kind rarely work and if any air does come out, it’s likely to be cold.

Hand Dryers New Type:  Public bathrooms often feature a thin U-shaped contraption with two closely spaced panels between which you insert your hands. (However, it’s very hard not to touch one or both of the walls, which probably contains residue from other people’s wet hands.) When the machine senses that wet hands have been placed into it, blasts of whooshing air engulf the hands from the sides and bottom. Since the U-shape is open upwards, air (and a healthy dose of water vapor and droplets) shoots up into your face during the “drying process.” As  water often collects at the bottom of this ingenious contraption, you often get a healthy splash of water on your face from previous users’ hands. When the machine senses your hands are “dry,” it stops. Of course, it doesn’t have good sensors, so your hands aren’t really dry. Kudos to the manufacturer!

LOCKS: Most facilities have locks on the stall doors, but in many cases they do not work. So if  you’re aiming to do your business in private, check the lock before using the facilities. If inoperative, be prepared to have either a hand or foot holding the bathroom door shut.

If reading the above has you in the dumps, don’t despair. I have a solution for you.


“Kitchen Sink” Pocketbooks.

If you’re the kind of woman who carries a pocketbook large enough to hold everything but the kitchen sink, I’ve got the perfect solution for you. Cover yourself for all eventualities by simply adding to that undifferentiated mass of objects in your pocketbook the following items: a roll of toilet paper, a soap dish with soap and a hand towel.

Small Pocketbooks: Buy yourself a discreet tote, or use a fancy store’s shopping bag and load in all the objects above.

Caveat: These solutions presuppose that there is a hook or some other object on which you can hang your pocketbook or tote. This is not the case in many bathrooms. So you can place the pocketbook around your neck while you are busy and hope you don’t choke, and the pocketbook doesn’t fall into the opening below. If that doesn’t sound too appealing, wear a fanny pack with a small pack of tissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. You’ll look like a nerd, but who cares. You’ll be prepared for life’s little “emergencies.”

Men and Women Who Don’t Wear Pocketbooks or Bags:

Stuff the small pack of tissues and the bottle of hand sanitizer into your pockets. Make sure the bottle is tightly sealed so it won’t leak, causing you embarrassment. Also, if using tissues for towels, beware of the telltale little clumps of paper on your hands. It’s a telltale sign of your recent whereabouts.

Best suggestion for everyone: Don’t leave home without using the facilities.

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