Getting nickeled and dimed to death in Europe

One of the things that’s striking about traveling in continental Europe is the way you have to pay up front for things that we, in the United States, take for granted should be free.  The most notable things in this regard is public toilets.  Everybody has to use the restroom sometime, but if you’re at a European theme park, open air museum, or shopping mall, you’d better be prepared to cough up as much as $2 for the privilege of relieving yourself at some place other than a roadside ditch.  Stores, the handy stand-by of the American with a full bladder, are also unavailable.  That’s not surprising with small boutique stores, which often don’t have public restrooms, but it is surprising with huge department or grocery stores, which either make customers pay for the privilege or that have no public bathrooms at all.

Rightly or wrongly, in my mind, the lack of free public restrooms ties in with yet another study showing that the caring European socialists are much less generous than their capitalist cousins in America:

A European either living off or managing a nanny state would say that Americans’ contempt for welfare regimes is based on greed. But if Americans are so selfish, how can they be so charitable?

In no European economy are the people more generous with their own money than the people of the U.S. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data, which have been thoughtfully assembled by Cato scholar Dan Mitchell, the total of Americans’ voluntary social spending reached 10.2% of GDP in 2009, the latest year for which numbers are available.

The only country that is remotely close in its generosity is the Netherlands, where the total was 6% of the nation’s economy. Only two other nations, Canada and the United Kingdom, exceeded 5%. The U.K. totaled 5.3% of GDP, Canada 5.1%.

The rest hardly even register on the chart. The French totaled a mere 2.8%, the Germans 2%. Greece, Italy, Norway and Spain all failed to break the 2% mark.

(Read more here.)


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  • Ymarsakar

    Slaves aren’t allowed to keep any food to give to charity to begin with.

  • Wolf Howling

    Historically, altruism was a word applied to individuals.  But in left wing societies, the reallocation of money and resources is pretty much taken over by the state.  You can see the same divide between right and left in the U.S., with conservatives far more likely to donate to charity while the left apparently prefers to force such “charity” through government approved taxation and redistribution.  Perhaps the penultimate example of this mindset came from a comment to one of my blog posts on our modern would be Robin Hood, Keith Ellison.  Bill from the UK responded:
    Well, look on the bright side, at least they haven’t decided they own your kidneys too, unlike around here…
    Organ donation opt-out system given go-ahead in Wales
    My response, after reading the article:
    I had a bit of a laugh reading at the link. Only a government official could characterize the enforced government harvesting of a person’s organs as the “most altruistic of gifts.” Do these people have no self awareness. 

  • Katja

    This reminds me of a time I was at a McDonald’s in Munich.  I had to use the restroom, and there was a bathroom attendant there.  She was an old woman who was barely coherent.  (Being McDonald’s, the bathroom charge may have been voluntary to start out with, but they have someone sit there to guilt patrons to pay something.)  In any case, I asked her if she wanted the money before or after, and all she did was grunt in reply.  I put my coin or coins in, and continued on.  As I was leaving though, she started screaming at me that I didn’t give her any money.  I left, but the whole thing really annoyed me.
    The bathroom charge thing is particularly bad in tourist areas, but having spent a good amount of time in Europe, there are often (though not always) ways to get around it.  

  • Ron19

    In most cases, a “donated organ” must be taken from the donor before he or she is actually, completely dead.
    China and North Korea are selling organs from prisoner “donor” farms, for sale domestically and to foreigners:
    It’s not a case of some one died, but someone will die, not always voluntarily.
    A related sci-fi story from 1989: The Patchwork Girl, by Larry Niven.

  • Caped Crusader

    One of my missions in life is to take up for Robin Hood, who is a most admirable human being. When correctly analyzed Robin and his merry band were actually stealing from the Sheriff of Nottingham who was a representative of the government and their oppressive taxation of those who had worked to earn the money. Therefore, Robin was stealing from a corrupt government and what we would call today crony capitalists in order to return their ill  gotten gains to the rightful owners who had actually earned it.

  • Wolf Howling

    Good point, Caped Crusader.  My tongue in cheek reference to Keith Ellison as a would be Robin Hood was inappropriate. 

  • Charles Martel

    Robin Hood was named after the hoodie he wore.
    The Sheriff of Nottingham, a White Britannic, relentlessly pursued Robin.
    Though the sheriff didn’t kill Robin Hoodie, he was racist nonetheless.

  • Bookworm

    Charles, it must be a wonderful thing to have your brain.  I’m jealous.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Yes, me too. Hammer truly does have a remarkable….brain. Hmm…reminds me of something: 

  • Charles Martel

    Book and Danny, thanks for assaulting my dignity and disrespecting my diversity.
    I will get you.

  • michal

    well, over here in Israel which is almost Europe if Greece and Italy are included, you usually have to pay.
    I’m glad we have to pay.
    A huge number of people in this neck of the woods stand on the seats to go in the ladies room. They are used to squat toilets.  They also wash their feet in the sinks.  An attendant keeps the floor drier and the seats wiped off.
    I’m not surprised that it costs. Water is not free and neither is toilet paper.

  • Spartacus

    “Conversely, it is also difficult to estimate the value of the public goods provided by the private sector.  For example, there is a Starbucks in my neighborhood at which I have observed something strange: The line for the restrooms is always longer than the line to order coffee — this morning, there were three people (including me) in line to order coffee, and eleven people in line for the restrooms.  I counted the people in line because the previous afternoon I had overheard a woman coming out of a very expensive furniture store telling a friend (on her iPhone, of course) that she really needed to, as she put it, “potty” (grown woman in her forties, this was) but knew that there was a Starbucks nearby, and was heading there for that purpose.  (It is true that, as much as I admire the iPhone, constant and instantaneous communication is something of a mixed blessing, especially for those of us in cities densely populated enough that we experience other people’s conversations like we experience the weather.)  Curious, I went into the store she was coming out of and, as I had expected, the establishment selling $20,000 sofas and $200 soap dishes of course had public restrooms for its customers.  But in the mind of the woman leaving the furniture store, if you need a public restroom in New York, you look for a Starbucks.  Unlike Paris with its sanisettes (heir to the justly maligned pissoirs of old), New York City does not have much of a publicly financed public restroom infrastructure as such.  What it has is Starbucks, a privately financed public restroom infrastructure with a very successful for-profit coffee chain attached to it.  Maybe you don’t think of Starbucks that way, and Starbucks certainly doesn’t think of Starbucks that way, but residents of New York City apparently think of Starbucks that way.  In fact, when an informal mutiny among Starbucks baristas a few years back resulted in their locking up restrooms and hanging “Employees Only” signs on the doors, the public outcry was big enough that the story made both the New York Post and the New York Times.  As one Starbucks manager said: “Starbucks is definitely New York’s public bathroom.”  The city has proposed building twenty Paris-style public restrooms, but there are nearly two hundred Starbucks.

    If Starbucks doesn’t do it, who will?”
    — Kevin Williamson, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome
    Really, how often does one get a chance to cite an informal, anecdotal analysis of the economics of public restrooms?  I feel priviledged!