|Controls for a toilet seat bidet.|
Did you think I’d said all I intended to say about my recent trip to South Korea? Wrong. I have more cultural insights to share. This week, my deep thoughts whirl around toilets.
Bidet toilets are popular in South Korea. How popular? They’re not reserved for private homes and apartments. You’ll find them in department stores, restaurants, and other public places. In short, tourists will encounter them.
They’re toilets first and bidets second. You do your business, and then, with a little button-pushing buttons, the toilet seat’s bidet attachment will spray or mist your butt, air dry it, deodorize the bowl, and more. Too much information? Here’s information you’ll appreciate: Water for the bidet attachment comes from the toilet tank, not the bowl.
Alas, the control's functions are written in Korean, which means foreigners like me must discover what each button does via trial and error. (I tried and erred many times in the name of research.) Some toilets have a mere handful of buttons; others have a dozen. A welcome winter surprise: many toilet seats are set on “warm,” and the spray is warm, too. Buttons control the temperature and the spray’s force.
Warning: Tourists intent on testing a bidet toilet’s controls should remain seated or risk wet clothing.
Twice, bidet toilets got the best of me, and both instances taught me a lesson. I hereby resolve never to rush a dog intent on covering its poop with dirt and leaves. Why? The urge to bury (or flush) leavings is primal in the animal kingdom. The first time I couldn’t figure out how to flush one of the fancy South Korean toilets, I pushed every button as my face grew hotter and hotter. I called for help, only to discover the flush handle was located exactly where it is in the typical American toilet. What can I tell you? It never occurred to me to look there. The second time I was stumped, help arrived and instructed me to swipe my palm across a sensor on the wall of the toilet stall in order to flush. The second instance still baffles me. How was I supposed to know that?
Cities in South Korea bustle. Trains and buses are jammed during rush hour. Apartments may be small. A bidet toilet allows two or three minutes of pampering behind a closed door. It’s a luxury that eases stress—for those who know what the controls mean.