The Potty Policy
Get acquainted with hi-tech bathroom culture in Korea
by Lauren Padia
Patrick O’Hara opened up the bathroom door to find a calculator staring back at him. Or at least, it looked like one.
If you’ve never sat on a heated toilet seat, you’ve probably never been overseas.
“When I arrived at the Gimpo Airport, I decided I should try to wash up in the bathroom. I decided to brush my teeth in a stall and just spit into the toilet. I remember opening the stall door only to find a toilet with a giant calculator staring back at me,” says PatrickO’Hara, a 26-year-old Michigan native who is teaching English in Korea.
Using the toilet is probably something you don’t think twice about, but your most basic daily routine will need an adjustment overseas.
In Korea, some toilets come equipped with an electronic keypad that seems to boast more functions than your iPhone.
What Does This Button Do?
“The buttons don't work unless you're sitting down, but since I didn't feel comfortableactually using the features, I just applied pressure with my hand [to the seat.] I decided to try the button that had what appeared to be a stream of water on it. Then I realized that was the bidet function. Water shot out of the toilet and onto the floor and adjacent wall. I spent a half hour in the stall with paper towels after that,” says O’Hara.
The electronic keypad that comes standard with some Korean toilets does more than just flush: it offers wash and bidet functions. For the uninitiated, a bidet shoots water up to rinse your bottom. Fortunately, you can adjust the temperature of the toilet seat and bidet’s water, as well as its pressure.
A Toilet Experience Unlike Any Other
If the standard wash and bidet options just aren’t cutting it and you need a little extra sprucing up, you can take advantage of the toilet’s massage function. The nozzle never actually touches your skin, but the water pressure and temperature can be controlled to give you some extra T.L.C.
To complete your toilet experience, the keypad also controls the toilet’s “dryer,” which turns on a heat lamp. Thankfully, the temperature is adjustable so you don’t get too toasty.
-What to know: Although electronic toilets have become increasingly popular in Korea, many rural areas still have the traditional squatting toilets.
What to do: When you first encounter these toilets, be sure to grab something to help maintain your balance. Luckily, many of these toilets have handrails.
- What to know: Flushing toilet paper may be the norm now, but older generations still use wastebaskets to dispose of used T.P.
What to do: Check the wastebasket to see what the protocol is in each restroom.
- What to know: While most public bathrooms will be stocked with a liquid soap dispenser, others just provide a communal bar of soap.
What to do: If you can’t stomach the thought of sharing soap with strangers, make sure to carry some with you, or pack hand sanitizer.
- What to know: There may not be toilet paper in public restrooms.
What to do: If you’re traveling through less populated areas, throw a roll of toile tpaper in your bag.
- What to know: In public bathrooms, you’ll see Koreans brushing their teeth at all times of the day.
What to do: If you want to blend in, stick a small travel toothbrush in your pocket to freshen up.