In Japan and Korea, women tend to be very embarrassed by ‘bathroom noises’. They took to covering this up by flushing the loo while they were on it – a major waste of water. Hence the invention of all sorts of devices, including state-of-the-art toilet control panels, with sound effects at your command.
While a number of Korean toilets are still ‘squat toilets’ (essentially a hole in the ground and considered by many Asians to be more hygienic than the Western sit-down toilet) the more sophisticated Korean WCs are now equipped with an array of buttons beside them. Some will have pictures, which will give you an idea of their meaning. But beware! Before you know it your bottom may be attacked by a fierce jet of water! A button with a pair of buttocks on it is usually a command for a spout to appear under your bottom and give you a quick rinse. A more comfortable ‘Washlet’ experience may be ensured by means of the temperature control buttons, which will decide on the warmth of the water jet. In any case it is wise to look for the ‘stop’ button first…
An alternative to these €3000 contraptions is the portable noise-generator, an item that fits into your handbag, or your priorities might even extend to an over-the-counter pill, supposed to prevent unpleasant smells when you go to the bathroom. (The Japanese, too, are said to spend about €75m a year on such pills.)
As Korean and Japanese toilet cubicles generally reach all the way to the floor, it is not easy to determine whether a cubicle is occupied or not. The proper way to check is to knock on the door; if it is occupied, the person inside will knock back.
Generally, in Korea, it is considered impolite to enter a room without knocking first. However, unlike in the West, it is not necessary to knock and wait for someone inside the room to open the door for you and invite you in. One may knock and enter immediately after. Men generally enter first, and also walk ahead of women; in Europe this is generally the other way around.
Hole-in-the-ground toilets can still be found in France and in Turkey. In France they are known as à la Turque (the Turkish way) and in Turkey as alafranga (the French way)!