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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Italy Adventures: We Wee – Learning new expressions and finding a place for number one in Venice

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

canal in venice with water in middle and colorful buildings with window boxes filled with flowers on both sides.

When with people from other places, I quickly notice how we say very common things in different ways. For two glorious weeks, at a wonderful writer’s retreat in Venice, Italy, I was the only American in a group of South Africans and English.

green, ripe figs, one cut in half, on a plate
A delicious snack of ripe figs

We spent a great deal of time together, including two meals each day. I heard a number of unfamiliar expressions and some that were a little bit funny, too. In particular was the way some referred to “number one.”

Most of the writers were women, many of us over 50, so needing to use the lavatory inevitably entered the conversation. Said in a delicate, high pitched and lilting South African accent, Jo-Anne's statement, “I need to wee,” was just the friendliest most inclusive and pleasant expression to hear. Still, because it was “potty talk,” I had to stifle a little giggle the first time I heard it.

Conversation related to the toilet or other bodily functions always turns me silly and results in discomfort disguised by adolescent responses including snickers, snorts, guttural noises, and squirming. It is reminiscent of dinner table mischief by my two young sons who thought it funny to make and discuss digestive gassy noises.

In America, we use many expressions for number one, including “pee,” “urinate,” “tinkle,” “winky-tink,” and what my parents used, “tee-tee.” I was taught that it was rude to talk about it at all, yet needing to go number one is very real and must at times be spoken about. “I need to wee” is much more pleasant to hear and also inclusive, non-judgemental, and absent the conversation-stopping intrusiveness of saying “tee-tee.” After all, “wee” is us, not just me, and we all need to “wee” sooner or later.

stemmed glass of iced coffee with sprinkles of cocoa
Afternoon indulgence in Venice - iced coffee with cocoa

Just writing “tee-tee” evokes memories of holding it for fear of being reprimanded for my untimely interruption of family car travel. Being in the back seat seemed to bring it on and after agonizing for what seemed like hours, I would finally use the enameled pot kept under the seat for emergencies. To compound the indignity, my siblings laughed as we watched my product be expelled from the car window by Mother while Dad drove on as if nothing had happened. Of course, all three of us children had to use that pot at one time or another and everyone was laughed at.

In Venice it was challenging to find a WC when me time became wee time. There are few public toilets. Even public places don’t always offer facilities. When you can find a toilet, you often have to pay more than the equivalent of a U.S. dollar to get relief. In fact, weeing can cost more than the cup of coffee that triggered the need.

Scouting for WCs, upon entering a museum or other establishment, is a necessary step in preparedness for the savvy Venice traveler. Making that pit stop before leaving a restaurant is imperative. Imbedded in some of my memories of places I loved are their availability or lack of toilets. One of my favorite museums, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, also has lovely toilets that are very convenient to its nicely appointed outdoor cafe.

Visitors to Venice can use this handy website to find toilets near their location. Sadly, I discovered this valuable resource only after I returned.

multi colored houses along the water in Burano Italy
Burano, Italy

On the island of Burano, I timidly asked the proprietor of a makeshift gelato shop if they had a WC and expected a negative answer. Miraculously, he produced a key and pointed behind the shop where there was a lovely, spotless facility for me to wee. It was a small but important victory in a day full of more notable accomplishments including navigating the vaporetto through stops on three islands and returning safely to our fabulous palazzo in San Polo.

Venetian canal with boats and a foot bridge
Canal near our palazzo in San Polo, Venice

What to call the bathroom, WC, or toilet was confusing. In Venice, most people spoke English and were used to dealing with tourists, so “WC” or “bathroom” was ok. After I left Venice, in more remote Italian locations such as Bardi, I found that only asking for the “toilet” generated any kind of useful hand gestures.

In the future, “I need to wee” is how I will refer to the number one necessity. It is doubtful that I will ever make it sound quite as sweet and expectant as my South African friend. But I will always think of her when I say it and remember our two weeks in Venice. Perhaps it is not the legacy she intended, but I am grateful to her for improving my vocabulary and attitude about we weeing.

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Oct 01, 2019

Katherine, great photos!!

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