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I've noticed sometimes in polite company or in the company of strangers some people will saying they are going to wash their hands 去洗手 (qù xǐshǒu) instead of going to the toilet 去上厕所 (qù shàng cèsuǒ).

Alternatively, asking for the 洗手间 (xǐshǒujiān) instead of the 厕所 (cèsuǒ).

Is this something that should be copied? Does it matter for guys, is this more feminine to say 洗手?

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I highly doubt 洗手 is more feminine. The two terms are basically synonymous for bathroom/toilet, but you could say 洗手 is more like an euphemism – Zhanger Dec 15 '11 at 10:11
补妆 is more feminine not 洗手 – AntiGameZ Dec 15 '11 at 10:14
Lucky you don't have friends like mine, some of the boys just go 拉屎 (lit. pull a shit) which I think sounds pretty nasty! – Ciaocibai Dec 15 '11 at 10:29
@Ciaocibai: That is a bit funny 8-) – dr Hannibal Lecter Dec 15 '11 at 15:34
厕所 could sound unrefined... My mother told me when I was a child that I should say 卫生间 instead of 厕所... – user58955 Sep 23 '13 at 6:46
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Roughly speaking, 洗手间 = bathroom/restroom and 厕所 = toilet.

洗手 literally means wash hands. It's not feminine, it's just more polite as you mentioned.

You can use either in most cases. You would use 洗手间 while eating or when talking to someone you don't know very well.

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Don't use 厕所 whilst eating with people.

Otherwise I don't think people will mind all that much.

A Chinese friend of mine told me to say 大使馆 for the bathroom before, but I bet you can see the joke already....

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3 other possibilities 解手、 方便(said to bus driver, on busses w/o restroom, in order to make him/her stop the bus),cf. 15:52:passenger to bus driver:师傅 到前边停一下 15:54:想方便方便、 撒尿(urinate)、

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from watching free online videos it would seem that 拉屎 is not quite as crass as shitting, also after having been to the restroom, it seems on can refer to the activity there by just 拉,e.g. 我拉完了/我没拉完cf。 06:41:student says to teacher"我还没拉完" – user6065 Jul 30 '14 at 1:27
Actually this seems very helpful to me, not for ordinary use in a restaurant or on the street, but precisely as S.Rhee says when you need to convey that it is important and you need someone to take action like stopping a bus. – Colin McLarty Sep 22 '14 at 14:45

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