In the informal poll I held recently, public toilets won out for the topic of this blog post over the Olympics. I’m not sure what that should say about my readers, but I’m keeping you all at arms’ length from now on. Below are some notable differences I’ve seen between bathroom etiquette in the US and here in Seoul.
1. Koreans don’t flush their toilet paper–I think I have mentioned this one before in my list of observations (not stereotypes, fine line I know). Instead, the toilet paper goes in the wastebaskets which appear in every stall. I assume this makes life much easier for groups of people like Transy’s Bathroom Squad (or whatever they’re going by now…The Water Closet Warriors? The Commode Crusaders? The Artist Formerly Known as Prince?), who seek bathroom equality of opportunity for people of all sexes and genders. Go them! I’m also absolutely positive that this is not South Korea’s motivation for not flushing their toilet paper, as I think it probably has about 100% more to do with the fact that their septic system just can’t handle millions of tons of toilet paper, but I like to be optimistic and say they probably thought of that as a side benefit. Anyway, it’s not so bad right now, but I’m guessing the subway bathrooms get way raunchy in the hot summertime.
2. Traditional toilets still appear in Korean public stalls–These look something like this
and are really, really difficult to use, especially if it’s your first time and you’re also scared in the hospital trying to hit a tiny cup without a funnel to give a urine sample. Also they are predictably super insanitary, and I now understand at least one reason which we must take our shoes off all the time. I don’t want pee all over my house either, and I must assume that all surfaces where shoes have been are also surfaces where pee is.
3. All of the Western-style toilets have lids–This is so you can close it to flush the toilet and therefore trap some of the germs in. The lids often have some kind of sticker or design on the inside to make it cute, like a cat or something. Like most things in Asian culture, this is mostly adorable but also kind of weird.
4. Most bathrooms in Korea have a touch-free hand dryer…–and you must be a magician to activate it. Koreans also like bar soap, so sometimes they’ll have a bar of soap attached to a metal rod in lieu of liquid or foam. Making use of this soap is an activity that can, in the right company, seem a little suggestive, so choose your bathroom buddies wisely.
5. Koreans love bathroom-y stuff–This observation is based on things like the aforementioned poop-themed cafe, the Suwon toilet museum (lovingly known as Mr. Toilet House), restaurants where the bowls are miniature toilets and the food is shaped like poop…I could go on, but I won’t.
So the point is that Koreans are very particular about bathrooming, and like most things, they take it a little far. But that’s why we love them!