Culture Shot: Putting the Toil in Toilet

Oh god, where are the toilets in this place? I crane my neck looking around for the toilet sign, the slick of sweat at the bottom of my back is quickly becoming a trickle. My brain is foggy. I need to find the bathroom, quickly. My eyes are roving the whole of the cafe, searching every possible location for the sign. Meanwhile, my bowels are growling like a dog about to bite. Oh Jesus. Ah! There it it! A quick exit stage left and around the corner. I can make it.

Jumping into the first stall and sitting down, I breathe a sigh of relief. Just in the nick of time, man that was a close one. Yet, as I sit here in the drafty cubicle of the Korean Barbeque, I can’t help but think something is missing in here. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s missing, but no time to think about the interior design of a toilet stall right now, I have to get back to the table…

Oh no.


No. I can’t have missed the most important step of going to the bathroom in Korea. I’ve been here too long to have forgotten. 

Yes. Yes, I have forgotten. Forgotten to take the paper from the dispenser outside the cubicle. So now to my ultimate shame, I will have to phone a friend to help me out. I can imagine the shame of making this call is equivalent to having to phone a friend on the €100 question of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’

I hang my head and pick up the phone.

Now readers, you may be wondering how on Earth I got myself into such a bizarre situation, and I understand your query. Truly, I do, but here in Korea, this scene is repeated almost daily by foreigners and other visitors. How it happens is as follows:

In Korea, public bathrooms work differently. It’s that simple.

Here, you will often find cubicles, or entire bathrooms, bereft of toilet paper. This is most common in the bathrooms of cafes and bars who share the room with the rest of the building. The paper can usually be found next to the door of the cafe/bar in a cutesy container, forcing you to reveal just how much you need the bathroom to the rest of the guests.

I understand that paper is expensive and toilet upkeep is tough, but there must be a better solution. If the paper were of higher quality than 1-ply I would perhaps understand, but alas no. It’s the same as back home, 1-ply for public loos. Korea, you’ve managed to baffle me and humiliate me in one fell swoop.

That said, it probably discourages people using too much paper. Secretly, I think there are just more people with unclean… bottoms. I mean it’s that, or Koreans have evolved not to poop as much. Neither would really surprise me… So before I go, some words of advice: always peek before you poop, and more importantly never wait until the last minute and let yourself get caught out!

P.S. This post is bittersweet readers, for it comes to you courtesy of Jamie’s laptop. This is due to the sad fact that I accidentally punched a cup of tea all over poor Gary the Laptop. Truly, we has seen a lot together, Gary and I, too much some might say! Alas, no more for the tea totally destroyed his internal hard drive. Rest in peace my friend. One tiny upside is that I’m writing from Table Talk, my favorite coffeeshop, with a killer carrot cake beside me. I guess it’s true for Marmee March, there’s always light behind the clouds!


3 thoughts on “Culture Shot: Putting the Toil in Toilet

  1. I think it’s a relic from the time when South Korea was pretty much a Third World country, and when toilet paper was probably in short supply. Why it hasn’t changed since baffles me, but I guess that it’s just become an accepted norm in Korean society at this stage.

    Still…..that was a pretty embarrassing situation. And I thought that having only a severely-underpowered hand dryer to dry your hands was bad…. On an unrelated sidenote, In case you are wondering – I have changed my tune slightly in relation to alcohol since, although I don’t think I’ll ever really get into it, to be honest.


    • Hi Tomás, I think you could be right with the idea that the no paper harkens back to days gone by. However, I believe it’s because the plumbing hasn’t caught up with the populace! I could regail you with tales of shoddy workmanship (Ted), but I will leave that for another day!

      I had totally forgotten my comment on your previous post, it seems I can be a bit of a rambler! I’m glad to see you have an open mind regarding your beliefs, although I would hate to think you were doing it on account of my half-formed rant! Haha.


      • Nah, there was probably a pair of us in it in terms of lack of perspective, it’s cool! 😀

        Thanks for that thing about the improvement in writing style – maybe the blog is helpful there, as well as my articles into SIN. Helps with the assignments too. 🙂

        I may not be the most outgoing of students in NUIG – I mainly just stick to lectures, and the Debating Society. Not so much getting in a load of drink and going to “Carbon” or whatever. But if it does remind you somewhat of NUIG, I’m glad that it does. 🙂


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