Friday, July 25, 2008

To pee or not to pee

I realized today that I haven't written anything about life in Korea for a very long time. Being a mom gets a lot more of my attention these days than being an expat. Nonetheless, I continue to marvel at the ways that living overseas can make you think about things that would ordinarily never cross your mind.

I give you exhibit A. I have been living in Korea for almost two years now, and I have never heard a Korean woman pee. This is not a result of failure to frequent public bathrooms. I drink a lot of water while I work, so at least twice a day, I visit the nearest bathroom, where I get the choice of sitting on an western-style porcelain throne or squatting over an Asian-style porcelain hole. (My choice depends on my mood.) This bathroom is shared by women from a number of different offices in the building, so there is generally at least one other person in there. When I see them go in ahead of me, they go into the stall, close the door, and then... nothing. When I finish peeing, they're still in there, and nothing has happened. Alternatively, if a door is closed when I go in, I sometimes hear a flush and someone leaving. However, I've never, ever, heard anyone actually make the telltale sounds associated with pee hitting porcelain.

So what are they doing in there? And how? And why?

I got a clue a few days ago, when for the first time, I was in a different public bathroom (now I'm sounding creepy--I don't actually seek out opportunities to pee in public, I swear) and saw a button on the wall enigmatically labeled "etiquette bell". I pushed the button, out came the sound of a toilet flushing. As I doubt that most people find the sound of a flushing toilet intrinsically pleasant, I am forced to conclude that the purpose of this device is to cover up other sounds. Is it possible that this entire nation is so shy of bladder that they have to make flushing sounds to be able to "perform"? If so, what is it that they want other people to think that they are actually doing in there? I have always thought of peeing as the LEAST offensive thing that one might be doing in a bathroom stall.

I had honestly never previously considered the possibility that an adult woman might go that far out of her way to avoid having someone hear her pee. The sound of pee is just water on water. It is what it is, and everybody does it, after all. I admit that I don't relish the thought of listening to people performing other bodily functions (something that Mystery assures me is a constant assault to the senses in men's bathrooms). But peeing?

So now I have become self-conscious as well. I don't know how to pee without making a sound (how do they do it?), and I certainly don't want to become known as "that disgusting foreigner who makes the peeing sounds", so these days, I make sure that I pee alone.

11 comments:

Tinker said...

It's so interesting being immersed in another culture -- this is stuff you don't read about in any books, that's for sure.

As for how they do it, I'm as in the dark as you.

Nina said...

Please do let us know how they pee without making a sound. Not that I want to learn it I'm ok peeing with lots of sound. But then again I live in Sweden and not Korea, I guess I'd become self-conscious as well if I'd never hear anybody pee.

I have hear though of people who put a thick layer of toilet paper in the bowl and pee on top of it to reduce the sound.

Marie-Baguette said...

read the The Sound Princess part of this wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilets_in_Japan
:-)

Sara said...

That's it M-B! I didn't know they had them in Japan too!

Samantha said...

That's pretty funny! I once went through a phase where I worried about peeing in public toilets, but that's really what they are there for!

Sarah said...

too funny. seems miserable to go through life that way! i'm sure they would think the same of my habits though!

Rachel Inbar said...

I'm aware of this phenomenon & personally, I think it's stupid...

Jaimie said...

Since having my baby I seem to be bladder shy. I don't know why. I have little trouble at home. But I do have trouble with public restrooms.

Kami said...

Around 7th grade I used to try and pee quietly - as in slowly, but it really didn't diminish the sound. When I heard a teacher trying the same thing I realized how stupid it was and came up with a solution. I started plugging my ears. If I couldn't hear it, I could pretend no one else could either.

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hammer said...

young ladies (under 40) should sound like pssssssssh, not splash-splash..just open your legs..sounds stronger and better