Up until a few years ago, I thought the biggest issue surrounding toilet paper was its orientation: OVER or UNDER the roll. I prefer the end to come up OVER the roll, whereas some people, who are wrong, like it to come under.
But, then, I traveled south.
Around five years ago, I went to a small pueblo called El Potrero Chico, about an hour outside of Monterrey, Mexico, to meet up with Tree where he was rock climbing for the winter. This was not my first time to Mexico, but in the past I had always gone to a coastal resort, never to a rural village in the Sierra Madres.
Anticipating my arrival, Tree rented us a small cabin in the campground. It was rustic, with nothing more than a double bed and a basic bathroom, but that suited me just fine. We were young and in love, and only had aims for one distraction.
That being said, there was this one weird issue with the toilet paper: Tree explained to me that here in Mexico—the real Mexico—we couldn’t flush it down the toilet. The plumbing just wasn’t built for it.
At first, I thought for sure that he was joking. He’s always playing on my gullibility, telling me tall tales, like the time on our first Grand Canyon trip when I was bummed because I forgot my star finder, and Tree said not to worry, that I should just go ask Corby to help me find them because “Corby went to astronomy school.” So I did. For three weeks I proceeded to follow Corby around every night, begging him to “Please, PLEASE Corby, stop being so modest and just tell me about the constellations! It’s okay. Tree told me everything. I think it’s really cool you went to star school.”
Not only did Corby NOT go to astronomy school, he couldn’t even find the Big Dipper.
Well, not this time buddy. I was not going to be the crazy white girl burying her toilet paper out back, burning it in the bathroom sink, or stuffing it in my carryon to flush it back in the States. No Siree Senor Tree! You’re not fooling me again!
But, unfortunately, it turned out that this time he was telling the truth. Toilet paper really doesn’t go in the toilet. In fact, to avoid this kind of confusion, toilet paper isn’t even called toilet paper in Latin America.
It is called ‘papel higienico,’ meaning ‘hygienic paper,’ and it goes in a little trashcan next to the toilet.
I never did master the basket method on that trip. I only got as good as saying “Dammit!” every time I dropped my wad in the bowl. After ten days of flogging myself for being a terrible bathroom goer, I went back to Los Angeles, relieved to put the tissue issue behind me.
That is, until October 11th, 2010, when we crossed into Baja California to start our Pan-American adventure, and I saw this:
Translation: Please don’t throw papers in the toilet. Due to the deficiency in the city’s pipes, it could obstruct them.
It took around a month, but I finally got used to using the bin. In fact, I am so accustomed to it that when we went back to the States this past August, I kept saying “Dammit” as I dropped my paper in the trash instead of the toilet. (Sorry Cheryll!)
But, really, getting used to putting my toilet paper in a different place is not that big of a deal. What I think will be really challenging is getting used to not using toilet paper at all, especially for someone who goes through an entire roll a day and likes to make fluffy toilet paper patties and stack them up in a BIG pile ahead of time in “preparation” of his “business.” (Hint: I am married to this ‘someone’).
And, yet, using toilet paper is not the norm.
In fact, 70% of the world’s population—nearly four billion people—does not use toilet paper.
Even though the Chinese invented toilet paper in the late 14th Century to accommodate an emperor’s finicky bum, it wasn’t produced for public sale until 1857 in the USA, and didn’t become popular until the early 1900s. Before then, the most common solution was simply to grab what was at hand: coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep’s wool, clay, stone, sponges and salt water—and, later, thanks to the printing press—newspapers, magazines, and pages of books. In fact, people used to joke that the catalog for Sears and Roebucks was made for Rears and Sorebutts. (I guess we had to be there.)
Today, in most of Asia, people use squat toilets, which are much better positioned for expelling matter from the colon than the American throne style– but, still, toilet paper is not widely used.
In rural areas, people wipe with their left hand, (Note to Self: Avoid left hands in Asia) immediately washing it in a bucket afterwards. In less rural areas, there might be a spigot or an actual sink with running water, and in developed parts, it’s not uncommon for bathrooms to have a butt sprayer (a handheld bidet) to wash your nether parts.
I don’t think I’m ambidextrous enough to wipe with my left hand, so I’m going to have to skip that option, but the toilets I can’t wait to try are the Washlets in Japan. They have butt sprayers, air blowers, seat warmers, and odor filters– a real hygienic treat for the modern derriere!
Check out that control panel!
More importantly, the Washlet saves hundreds of thousands of trees from the ignominious fate of becoming butt tissue.
Currently, the United States spends more than $6 billion a year on toilet paper—more than any other nation in the world. Americans, on average, use 57 squares a day, with one roll usually lasting five days. (Five days!! I find this stat very disturbing. How is it even possible? Are people not wiping until it comes back clean, or maybe Americans are just constipated? Too much meat and potatoes, not enough fiber?)
At the end of a lifetime, each person typically uses 384 trees worth of toilet paper.
But then there are people like Tree and me, who prefer a bigger ‘buffer zone’ than the average 7 or 8 squares per wipe. In fact, we use 5 X the amount of the normal household per day, which means that we either need to 1) plant three thousand trees, or 2) install a Washlet in the Sprinter, because as it stands, between the two of us, we are responsible for the death of a small forest.
And I haven’t even begun to calculate the baby wipes…
…Or the time when Tree decided to TP the dog.