Understanding bathrooms in Italian hotels

Look, honey: Two toilets!

A Turrkish toilet in Italy
With exceedingly rare exceptions, you will never find a Turkish toilet in an Italian hotel—but you will find them in most bars and plenty of other public restrooms. You have been warned.
You may expect to find the most cultural difference in Italy in the museums and architecture, the way people talk and act, the food they eat, and the unstomachable national brands of liqueur they drink, but nowhere is culture shock greater than in the bathroom.

These mysterious and unfathomable ceramic shrines are a bundle of the unexpected and the entirely novel. It starts in a cheap pensione when you discover that the only bathroom is down the hall, coed, and is shared by everyone on the floor...

  • This bath is your bath, this bath is my bath. Among Italian hoteliers, it's a bit of a mystery why so many American travelers so strongly object to sharing a bathroom. From their point of view, they find it a bit odd that many of us feel we cannot sleep in a room unless there's a toilet right next to the bed.

    Although more and more European hotels are installing bathrooms in every room, it is by no means standard. Either accept the shared bath principle or prepare to pay extra for a private bath in your room.

    Note that, except in hostels, rarely is a bath down the hall shared by more than two or three rooms (sometimes it's even your own private bathroom; it's just not located inside the room itself thanks to the constraints of medieval architecture and historic preservation laws).

  • The faucet marked "C" is the hot water, not cold ("hot" in Italian is caldo). For cold water, turn the one marked "F" (for freddo, or "cold"). Same rule applies, by the way, in France and Spain. Speaking of which:

  • The dreaded Italian waffle towels.
    The dreaded Italian waffle towels.
    Is that a towel or a waffle? Traditional Italian towels are flat, waffle-textured and singularly unabsorbant.

    Follow the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy's advice and carry your own of the terry-cloth or camping variety for just such an emergency (a hand towel is least bulky).

  • The early bird gets the hot shower. Hot water may be available only once a day and not on demand—this is especially true of shared baths.

    Heating water is costly, and many smaller hotels only do it once daily, in the morning. Once that's used up, the luxury won't be available again until the next day.

    When you check into a cheap hotel, ask Quando c'è l'aqua calda? ("When is there hot water?") Take your shower quickly, soap up without water, and try to be first in line to avoid inadvertent freezing.

  • Left: toilet. Right: bidet. Do not mix them up.
    Left: toilet. Right: bidet. Do not mix them up.
    No, that's not an auxiliary toilet. That funny extra toilet that looks like a reclining urinal is called a bidet. Its water jets are intended to clean the bits of you that don't often get tanned, so to speak—much more thoroughly than toilet paper.

    Your host will not appreciate it if you use the bidet as an auxiliary toilet.

    Some tourists wash out clothes or store fruit or beer in there, but I just think about what the European guests use the thing for and do my laundry in the sink.

  • Is that the shower or a spigot? The Italian concept of a shower is to stick a nozzle into the wall and a drain in the floor. Curtains are optional. In many cramped private baths, you may have to rescue the toilet paper and find it safe harbor outside the bathroom before turning on the shower and drenching the whole room.

  • That lovely Italian invention: the half-tub.
    That lovely Italian invention: the half-tub, apparently developed by gnomes and elves to irritate human-sized people.
    This must be the kiddie bathroom... Another fun Italian bathroom trick is the half tub, in which you sit rather than lie down, with a shower nozzle on a hose that has nowhere to hang. The basin is only half as long as a regular tub, and has sort of an upper deck and a lower deck, the idea being that you sit on the upper one. The practical result is that your knees get very clean (though little else does), and the floor gets very wet.

    You know how, in a foreign country, you get used to most of the local oddities after a while? Well I lived in a Roman apartment for a full year with one of these midget tubs, and I never got used to it. Thankfully, very few Italian hotels have these anymore, and those that do tend to be one-star joints in out-of-the-way destinations (like the one I suffered in Messina, Sicily a few years back).

  • Just pretend those outlets don't exist. See the section on electricity for details on what is not safe to plug in your bathroom outlets (hint: everything).

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Useful Italian
Useful Italian phrases and terms for lodging

English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah

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