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Going to the Bathroom in Sweden Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 in Culture, Vocabulary

When learning a new language, we don’t always spend too much time on certain vocabulary—like bodily functions. A while back, Katja wrote a post titled The sensitive subject (which isn’t so sensitive in Sweden) where you can learn all kinds of vocabulary about bodily functions. It’s a wonderful list. Now it’s time to expand on that list a bit by focusing on the act of actually finding a bathroom to go to. While pee and poop are not all that stigmatized in Sweden (they have plush toys in the shape of those particular bodily functions and even a children’s show!), as an adult, it’s probably not the best idea to just walk up to someone and tell them: Jag måste bajsa! Let’s instead take a look at the bathrooms in Sweden.

For those of you who are new to Sweden, many places, especially in big cities, charge you to use the toilet (en toalett). Sometimes, like at a big shopping center, for example, they may have a bathroom attendant outside taking your money and allowing you in. Other times, like at a public bathroom in a park, there might just be a little change slot where you pay to unlock the door. Usually, you won’t have to pay more than 5SEK or 10SEK. I suppose the idea is that if you have to pay for it you’ll treat it better, plus the money can then go to upkeep and pay for the supplies like toilet paper (ett toalettpapper or ett toapapper), soap (en tvål), and paper towels (ett torkpapper or en pappershandduk). Maybe. You’ll still find yourself holding your breath and trying to get in and out as fast as possible in some Swedish public toilets.

If you’re out of change and just have to find a bathroom, there are ways around paying to pee. And no, it does not involve you peeing in public. Head to a nearby library. Many (but not all) libraries offer free bathrooms. Or if you’re feeling brave, just walk into a nearby café or restaurant and find the nearest bathroom. You might want to buy something, in which case, check out this post about ordering at a café in Swedish. In many semi-public bathrooms, like cafes, restaurants, or libraries for example, you’ll find a toilet brush (en toalettborste). It’s there for a reason. Use it.

If all else fails, find an occupied pay bathroom and wait. Don’t be creepy, but wait until someone comes out and then grab the door before it has a chance to close. You might get a dirty look from the person that paid 5SEK or 10SEK, but depending on the urgency and your lack of change, it could be worth it. You’ll find that this is pretty common practice the later it gets in the evening and the more alcohol people have consumed.

Of course, now that you know all about bathrooms in Sweden, you probably need to know how to ask for one in Swedish. You will almost exclusively ask for the toilet. While there is a word for bathroom, ett badrum, that’s where the bathing takes place. Toileting? That happens in the toilet. So if you need to pee, try saying:

Ursäkta, var är toaletten? Excuse me, where is the toilet?

Or:

Ursäkta, var är toan? Excuse me, where is the toilet? Toa is a little more casual word for toilet.

You’ll probably get a few directions in response: to your right (till höger), to your left (till vänster), at the back (längst bak).

Once you find the toilet and do your business, you need to wash your hands (p.s. always wash your hands). What if there’s no soap though? If you’re at a café, for example, find the nearest employee and let them know:

Ursäkta, tvålen är slut. Excuse me, there’s no soap left.

You can use this as a template for just about anything in the bathroom. Ursäkta, toapappret är slut. Ursäkta, torkpappret är slut. You get the idea.

Since going to the bathroom is generally a solitary activity, there won’t (and maybe shouldn’t) be much more of a conversation to be had. But now you’re ready should you find yourself in Sweden in need of a toilet. Good luck!

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About the Author:Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


Comments:

  1. Sheila Morris:

    Ah yes, the famous “toa-tia” (‘tia’ = 10 crown coin). Always, always have one in your wallet!

    Also, in many places, men should be prepared to wait in line along with the ladies. There is often one main door leading to a hallway with other doors. Each stall has its own toilet, sink, and mirror. I’ve never seen this set-up here in the U.S.


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