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Gems of Paris by French Moments

Paris is full with little oddities and unusual things to see. One of them are empêche-pipi that can still be seen in many parts of the French capital, particularly at street angles. Let me tell you what these curious little structures are about…

The empêche-pipi of Paris

When walking in the streets of Paris, you have probably seen something looking like this:

Empêche-pipi Paris
Empêche-pipi at 10 rue de Thorigny © French Moments

Found in corners, the French call them ‘empêche-pipi’ and they are part of the street furniture of Paris alongside benches, lamp posts, fountains or bollards. 

In 1850, following numerous complaints from citizens, a Chief of the Paris Police thought of a pee-repellent dispositive. His solution was to adorn the incriminated angles with ironworks (sometimes dotted with sharp spikes) or cone-shaped structures fixed against the wall.

Empêche-pipi Paris
Empêche-pipi at the church of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais © French Moments

They were called empêche-pipi, literally prevent pee. Other names in French included dispositifs anti-pisouille, pisse-pala, borne sanitaire, casse-pipi, casse-brayette, éclabousseur de chaussettes.

These anti-pee measure played a deterrent function: the pee would bounce directly back onto the legs and feet of the public pee-er, soaking their trousers – regardless of the jet’s power!

Let’s have a look at some empêche-pipi across Paris…

33 rue Saint-Sulpice (flanking the chevet of the church) (7th arrondissement):

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
33 rue Saint-Sulpice © French Moments

At the church of Saint-Ambroise (11th arrondissement):

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
Church of Saint-Ambroise (11th arrt) © French Moments

In the Marais:

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
In the Marais © French Moments

At 1 rue Chapon (3rd arrondissement):

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
1 rue Chapon © French Moments

In Impasse de Conti (6th arrondissement):

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
Impasse de Conti © French Moments

At 16 rue du parc royal (3rd arrondissement):

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
16 rue du parc royal © French Moments

At Villa de l’Ermitage (20th arrondissement):

Empêche-pipi, Paris © French Moments
Villa de l’Ermitage (20th arrt) © French Moments

This aspect of Paris I dislike

Eiffel Tower from Montmartre in March © French Moments
Eiffel Tower from Montmartre in March © French Moments

I have to confess that there are some aspects of Paris I dislike.

The smell of urine (from dogs or drunk men) is one of them. Walking through the streets of Paris can sometimes feel like going back to the Middle-Ages! Every little corners are favourite spots for a drunkard: doorways, behind trees and cars, on the steps down to the Métro… Public urination has a French name: pipi sauvage (wild peeing).

Outdoor urination in a public place was – and is still – forbidden. It is punishable by fines (35 euros).

Here and there you might read a notice fixed onto the doorways of residential buildings: « This door is the entrance to our building. Be nice and go and urinate elsewhere ».

Fortunately, the anti-pee dispositive was first supplemented with urinoirs and today with free sanisettes

If you’re interested by more oddities of this kind in Paris, check out the last public urinoir standing in Paris!

last vespasienne in Paris
The last vespasienne in Paris, boulevard Arago © French Moments


Gems of Paris by French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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