Okay, this experience was too surreal for me to let it slide without comment.
I was walking from the Jardin des Plantes in the direction of l’Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, which claims to be the oldest church in Paris (12th century) and at which there was to be a lovely concert of piano music (Lizst and Chopin). Since I had been sitting in the park for some time, I rather needed to use the bathroom. It turns out they have a public toilet in Place Jussieu:
This thing is an all-singing, all-dancing toilet which, according to the sign on the front, cleans itself automatically. And indeed, after I pushed the button with the green light next to it and the door slowly slid open with an almost German technological hum, I had to admit the inside was very clean. Toilet of the future, all told, compared to some of the others I’ve experienced in Paris, and very, very well-kept for a public restroom.
On my way out, as I hit the “Flush” button, a recorded voice started yammering at me in French, nous vous remercions de blah blah blah I didn’t hear the rest because the acoustics were terrible inside that tin can, and as previously mentioned my listening comprehension for French language is not what I sometimes wish it was.
Then the ear-splitting alarm started.
I frantically looked around for something I forgot to do — the flush hadn’t taken, the door was open, and I felt like this bionic toilet was screaming J’ACCUSE and I had no idea how to defend myself. I checked. I double-checked. Nope, alarm still going off. I hit Flush again. The voice once again thanked me for whatever I was supposed to have done. Everyone else in the open plaza seemed to be going about their business, but surely they were just trying to be polite. Minced oaths would have been wholly inadequate.
All else having failed, and still without having flushed, I tried to walk away from the scene as calmly as possible. Which was, it seems, exactly what the toilet wanted me to do. The door closed within ten seconds of me stepping outside, the alarm stopped its sharp-edged honking, and the light on the outside went from red to yellow, then to blue, and finally to green again.
That was without a doubt the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in Paris.
ed.: Em tells me they have these self-cleaning toilets in Australia too. I’ve never come across them there. The loud alarm is supposed to discourage abuse by drug addicts.