For certain reasons I've recently spend a lot of time thinking about toilet paper and the reasoning why we in western countries use it. The more I keep thinking about it, the less it keeps making sense to me.
When I was twenty-something and traveling around Asia, I remember the first time I happened upon a toilet with no toilet paper, just a water hose and a bucket of water. I remember thinking "how uncivilised, they don't even have toilet paper here". After that I was carrying a roll of toilet paper in my backpack everywhere I went, as a some sort of token of being civilised.
Then in 2005, I was studying in Shanghai for awhile and while there, happened to read a book about the cultural differences between East and West. The book was written for western business travelers coming to China and it used stories to highlight the sometimes funny differences between these two cultures.
One of the stories in the book particularly struck a chord with me and I still keep thinking about it every time I sit on the toilet. The story was about the use of toilet paper and how absurd it is to use paper for, well, cleaning after the 'number two'.
The story, as I remember, went something like this:
A western business man is traveling around rural China for the first time. On his first day of travels, he happens upon a small village where he and his entourage stop for a dinner. Afterwards, the business man goes to look for a toilet and the restaurant owner, an old man, takes him behind the restaurant to show him where the toilets are.
Upon entering the stall the business man sees there is no toilet paper, just a bucket of water. He goes back out to find the old man, and with the translators help, comments about the lack of toilet paper:
Business man: "How uncivilised are you here? No toilet paper? How do you expect me to wipe my behind after I've done my business in there?"
The old man calmly listens to the translator and then explains:
The old man: "If you would fall face first into a pile of shit, which one would you choose: a paper towel or a bucket full of water?"
If you're wondering about the book, I think the name of it was something like "Why Chinese mice don't eat cheese and other cultural phenomenons". Sadly I can't seem to find it anywhere online, and I've lost my copy of the book. I might also remember the title wrongly so that might be why it won't come up in any searches. But anyway, if you happen to find this book somewhere, buy it and read it. It's well worth the read! And send me a note about the title!