Bathroom humor

We made it home tonight from Pusan.  I’ll tell you about our trip to Pusan and post some photos tomorrow. 
Tonight I want to share with you something that you might find a little unsettling.  The subject is Korean public restrooms.  I know it’s an intimate subject.  However, since Korean restrooms do their best to strip away any semblance of privacy, I might as well write about them in my blog.  If you’re squeamish about frank, honest bathroom talk, please skip this blog entry.  This topic first came up a few months ago.  I was sitting in a Starbucks in Gangnam with a friend, lounging on one of their couches, enjoying a Frappuccino and good conversation.  While we were talking, I looked up and stared right into the women’s restroom in the building next door.  I could see nothing from waist down or inside the stalls, but other than that, I had full view of the women’s restroom and the women who loitered there.  I’m not a peeping tom; I’m just a guy who enjoys coffee at Starbucks who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.   I haven’t seen anything like that since watching those unrealistic, unisex bathroom dialogues on the TV show "Ally McBeal."  At that time, I thought, "Nah, that’s too personal to write in a blog."  Today changed my mind.  I went into a men’s restroom at the Pusan Train Station, and an ajuma (older woman) was cleaning the stalls while the men mingled in the bathroom.  I hid elsewhere while she cleaned. 
So, without further adieu, here are my adages from Korean public restrooms.  Well, the men’s restrooms, anyway.
  1. If you want any privacy at all, use a stall.  At least a restroom stall has a door and three walls.  Well, most of the time anyway.
  2. You don’t have to worry about squat pots.  Most Korean public restrooms are equipped with western-style toilets.  No worries about learning how to do as the Asians do!
  3. Don’t forget to say "cheese."  When you’re in a public restroom, you’re probably going to be exposed to either a wide, open entrance, or a big window that inconveniently faces a busy location.  Either way, unless you use a stall with a door, there is a good chance someone–male or female–will see you in the restroom doing who knows what. 
  4. Pull the faucet handle down.  In the U.S., one usually pulls the faucet handle up to run water in a public restroom.  In Korea, pull the handle down.  This simple fact can save you a lot of heartache trying to figure out why the faucet won’t budge.
  5. Don’t worry about the ajumas.  Apparently the restroom cleaners, if they are of the opposite sex, do not wait for restrooms to empty before cleaning them.  I haven’t tested this theory in women’s bathrooms, although I suspect that male janitors will not enter women’s restrooms in Korea when women are present.  Men’s restrooms are fair game for ajumas, however.  Don’t worry though–most are moms and have seen it all before anyway.
  6. It can get a little breezy at times.  For some reason, when you approach a urinal, it automatically flushes.  Then, afterwards, it doesn’t seem to flush at all.  This seems very counter-intuitive and the opposite of what happens with urinals in the U.S.  This one is still a mystery to me.
  7. Good luck finding a working automatic hand dryer.  You might want to bring some paper towels or a hand towel with you just in case.  I find that many Korean restrooms do not have paper towels, and the automatic dryers only work about 50%-60% of the time.  This statistic is completely unverified.  However, many a time I’ve had to resort to hand wringing to dry off my hands.
  8. Check to make sure the restroom has toilet paper before you need it.  Sometimes the toilet paper is on a roll outside the stall, and sometimes restrooms don’t have toilet paper at all.
  9. Most restrooms don’t have sanitary seat covers, so bring your own.  If you are concerned about germs on toilet seats, be sure to have an ample supply of paper seat covers.  I have yet to find any in Korea.
  10. If you’re on the go and you can’t find a restroom, just go.  Although there are periodic rest areas on highways throughout Korea, it is OK to stop on the highway shoulder and find a place to do what you have to do.  It doesn’t matter if the highway is busy or whether the person can easily be seen.

Note to AngelineTay:  Thanks for your recent posts.  Yes, I’ll be kind to the rude customer when I see them in Seoul.  I try to live by the Golden Rule, because I really do want to be treated the wait I treat other people. 

  1. Mike

    Sounds like the making of an anthroppology paper – Cultural Habits and Taboos of the Public Restroom. Just when you think some things are universal.

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