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South Korean Culture: The funny and sometimes unusual side of Korea
Toilets in London, U.K. Why is "toilet" written on all of the buildings in London? That was the question put to me by one of my students and I was unable to answer the question, because I have lived in London and I know that toilet is not written on most buildings. After a while I came to realise that what it does say on many buildings in London, is "To Let" - meaning to rent on a long-term basis. The student and I were both left amused by the initial confusion.

The word Toilet by the way, in American English is called 'Restroom' or 'bathroom'. If you are in England and ask for the restroom, people will genuinely be confused. In American the opposite situation can happen whereby if you ask for a toilet, people will understand but they might laugh at you. Americans are not used to using the word toilet even though they understand the meaning. In America the word 'toilet' is considered impolite even though in other countries it is used without any problem at all. In England, people use the word bathroom usually when they talking about having a bath (or shower). Confused? Do not worry because you can also use the word 'Gents' or 'Ladies'. Believe it or not, there are dozens or words in Anglo languages for the word toilet. Some very common expressions in English to say the word toilet are: bathroom, bog, can, cloakroom, comfort room, commode, convenience, dump tank, dunny facility or facilities.

'Throne' for me is one of the funniest for saying the word toilet. The idea is that the Queen of England always has a throne (a ceremonial chair on which to sit on). In this case, even the Queen of England sometimes has to use a toilet and sit down, hence the origin of the use of throne to describe a toilet, is the idea that even the queen has to sit down (on her thrown as it were) to take a long toilet visit.

Interesting Translations English words and their translation into Korean can also be a cause of amusement, embarrassment and interesting situations. In one situation, one of my friends 'Niall', an Irish guy, was teaching two children and he had a problem to explain the word 'Ambidextrous' (which means 'a person who can use both hands'). Niall had bought an electronic dictionary in Seoul, so he typed in the word 'Ambidextrous' and he showed the two children the screen of the dictionary. The Korean English translation came up with the translation as 'bi-sexual'. Bi-sexual does mean two ways but not two ways with your hands. He quickly took the electronic dictionary away from the students.

Another amusing situation, which one of my female students told me about, was when she visited Australia with a friend. They were shocked and scared when they were riding in a taxicab and hearing the driver saying “Good die” to them. The driver said 'Good die' a few times and they were very worried. After they got out of the taxi and had time to think about the situation, they eventually realized that the driver was saying “Good Day” - the Australian way of greeting people. Every country has its own peculiarities and what one traveler finds strange in a country, is often a way of life in the country being visited. On a recent visit to Italy for example, I was surprised by the way in which everyone, including men, kiss each other on both cheeks on the side of the mouth, in greeting. I have got used to this now, although I recently went to kiss the wrong side first and ended up almost head butting someone.
About the Author
Paul Symonds writes for South Korea Culture and for Paul Symonds travel.
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