If you’ve never travelled in Asia, there are some thing about the bathrooms here that you may notice are… different. You may need to adjust your toilet-going habits a little, so hold on to your butts, it’s going to be an interesting ride!
If you are unaware of what a squatty potty is, count yourself lucky. It’s literally a small porcelain basin in the floor which you need to… squat over! You’ll find these in older buildings, schools, and many subway stations. These toilets take some getting used to, but eventually you’re reaction will be: “Oh, a squatter… oh well.” These are mostly in public buildings, not in apartments or homes.
Most Koreans are perfectly comfortable in a squatted position, because they’ve been squatting since childhood. When Western-style toilets became more popular, changing the plumbing of an entire building just to accommodate one seemed like a pretty silly idea, so older buildings kept their trusty squatters. Also, squatting while pooping is better for your health. It’s evolution, baby!
Many public toilets will have a very “ho-hum” attitude toward toilet paper. Some will have toilet paper outside the stalls. Some have it outside the bathroom. Some just… won’t have any! I’m not sure exactly why this is, as Koreans use toilet paper in the exact same way as most cultures, but just seem to be less enthusiastic about supplying it. Long story short, carry toilet paper with you!
Many Korean plumbing systems are also very old, so they’re a bit weak and temperamental. Because of this, in older buildings, the systems can’t handle massive amounts of matter and will clog frequently. Many establishments will have signs saying to put your toilet paper in the wastebasket. If there is a sign, but it isn’t in English, it most likely says to put your toilet paper in the wastebasket. In newer or fancier buildings THIS IS A LIE and you can totally flush away your paper to your heart’s content!
Find this along with a few other things that might cause Culture Shock in Korea: Why You Might Feel Uncomfortable!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the super high-end toilets. These are always a happy surprise! These toilets will have special toilet seats that come with all the bells and whistles you could possibly want. They will be heated and have a bidet (with adjustable spout), a dryer, and sometimes will even give you a little squirt of perfume!
More common are the “courtesy speakers” or, as I like to call them, the “don’t listen to me take a massive dump noise maker.” This is a little speaker where, when you press it, makes the sound of a toilet flushing over and over so other people are spared the sound of your movements. WARNING! Do NOT confuse these with the emergency call button! It’s hard to confuse them, but don’t go blindly pressing buttons if you don’t know what they do!
There are a few less common, but still very surprising styles of bogs. One of these is the squatter… with no flushing device. These will have a bucket of water with a smaller bucket for scooping. You just need to scoop water into the toilet and let gravity do its work!
Next there’s the conveyor belt toilet. Now, personally, I’ve only heard one report of this, and it was a toilet in a national park, but it’s so different that I couldn’t help but write about it. Apparently, you just do your business on a conveyor belt and, when you’re finished, press a button, and the conveyor belt moves and carries it away while also wiping down the belt… CRAZY!
When Korea first started having working toilets they were pretty much all squatters. In recent decades the majority of new toilets have been Western-style seat toilets. When first encountering these, many people were confused and didn’t know exactly how to use them. To clear up any confusion, you’ll occasionally see signs in the stalls telling you NOT to stand on the toilet seat while evacuating. Sadly, none of the Seoulistic staff have yet to see footprints on the toilet seat.
If you’re worried about Korean toilets, the best advice we can give you is to always carry toilet paper and hit the gym so you can get your squat on! Happy landings!
If you want to live in Korea, here’s 10 other things you’ll have to get used to in Korea!
Margaret has been living and working in Seoul since 2011. Originally hailing from the United States (Maine and Tennessee, to be precise) she’s more than found a home amongst the wonders of Seoul. She eats more kimbap that could possibly be healthy for her and has a bad habit of bursting into KPop songs to which she does not know even 80% of the lyrics. Check out her blog at margarettriesbeing.com for more in-depth (that is to say, rambling) articles on Seoul How-To’s, Survival Tips, and excessive use of animated gifs.