If you’ve been to a hotel in Italy, you probably recall seeing a thin cord dangling tantalizingly down into the tub or shower. It may look like a clothesline, but isn’t. What exactly is that cord, and what happens if you pull it?

Hotels in Italy follow a building code that requires them to have an emergency pull cord in the bathroom. Even the most delightfully posh hotels like the Park Hyatt Milan have them.

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Don’t see the emergency cords? Look again from a different angle.

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The premise makes absolute sense to me, since many bathrooms in Italy have a shower/tub combo where the bottom of the tub is several inches higher than the bathroom floor.

Instead of a full shower door there is usually a partial glass door that swings to and fro. Because of the half-door and your position up high in the room water sprays everywhere which coats the already smooth floor tiles with a slickness akin to ice skating rinks.

After showering, stepping out of the tub can be a tricky endeavor and even those of you with the keen balance of a gymnast may find yourself slip sliding around as you gingerly step out and over the tub onto the floor way below, trying to avoid hitting your head on the tub, vanity or the floor tiles.

If you fall and reach out in panic to pull the bathroom cord on your way down, or pull it once already on the floor with legs splayed akimbo, an alarm is designed to ring on a master panel in the hotel. Upon hearing the buzz, an employee will grab a copy of your key, quickly come into to your room to offer you assistance and get you medical help for your cracked knee or broken elbow.

Much like a cat’s beloved string toy, it seems that hotel guests cannot help themselves from “accidentally” pulling the cord even when there is no emergency.

I’m sure there has been a good amount of eye-rolling over tourists and their frequent bathroom cord pulling. Some hotels have even taken to adding the words “alarm” to the string and taping it down in hopes that attempts to use the string as a clothesline will be thwarted.

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Of course, now that you know what they are, you may start to notice them more and even snicker occasionally at their location. Oddly enough, the emergency pull cord isn’t always in the most convenient place.

This one at the Hotel de Russie is elegant but easy enough to spot –

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This one at the St Regis San Clemente Palace in Venice blends in with the surrounding towels since the cord handle is also white –

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This one is easier to spot, and it appears that hotel staff may have looped the cord up so that they didn’t get so many accidental tugs.

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Can you find the emergency bathroom cord in this hotel shower?

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That’s right, the cord is actually outside of the shower. Not sure how helpful that would be since you would most likely fall inside the shower.

This one at the Bagni di Pisa cracks me up. If you really did fall in the tub or on the floor of the bathroom, how on earth would you manage to reach that red cord?

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There is no standardized requirement re the response to the emergency bathroom cord, so if you pull it there may be a delayed response. It could be that the alarm panel is disabled (accidentally, of course) or that the person that handles the alarms may be out and about on property.

Curious hands can’t always resist a tug so many hotels now just call to your room to check that everything is ok. Even though today you’ll most likely just get a casual phone call to confirm your safety, be prepared for the possibility of having people knock loudly on your door, rush inside your room and interrupt your private shower.

Have you ever pulled the cord?

Want more Italy? Here are a few more articles you might enjoy –

Magic of Miles in Italy: Florence, Portofino, Pisa, and Milan

One of my very favorite hotels in Italy