toilet paper

Toilet Paper: An American Love Story

Well, we DID say it would be eclectic…  you can’t accuse us of not having warned you!–Ed.*

Upon visiting the US, a foreign visitor is immediately struck by how all things that can make life more comfortable or pleasant are immediately available, from glazed donuts to those pillows you need so that your head doesn’t flop around when trying to sleep on airplane seats.

It is quite clear that Americans enjoy being comfortable – decadently so, if possible.

The visitor will note this and nod in approval.  It is a good thing to have one’s creature comforts looked after.  In fact, it would be good to take it back to his own country.  He takes notes.  He understands why America is an important world power, and why immigrants, both legal and of the humid dorsal variety flock to it’s shores.  He understands all this while purchasing an electric griddle.

Sadly, as soon as he decides to go to the bathroom – possibly from eating all those glazed donuts – he realizes that it’s all a facade, and takes the first available flight back to civilization.

“Why?” one asks.

It’s quite simple.  The one basic creature comfort that isn’t readily available in the US is the bidet…  and as most readers of this blog will be aware, civilized life simply isn’t possible when that particular implement is lacking.

But why is is so rare on those shores?

Well, one theory is that, since it was invented by the French (originally used by French royalty in fact), it was rejected by the British, which, as we recall were influential in America in the early 1700s.  This would mark one of the few instances in which the British Empire was unable to adopt and improve upon a foreign custom, and seems a bit of a flimsy excuse.  After all, a culture that adopted tea as the national drink despite its not growing within a thousand miles of its shores seems not to be the best candidate for not-invented-here syndrome.

So, perhaps it’s a technical thing.  Perhaps scraping with toilet paper is better than washing?

Er… read the above line again.  If you are unable to spot the problem, then you are quite blessed: from now on, you can save a fortune on water by never showering again in your life; all you have to do is to give yourself a good rub with toilet paper once a day, and you’re good to go.  Clearly, that isn’t it either.

So what could cause a culture that has warmly embraced everything from Ikea furniture to the idea that fish is better raw to shy away from something that could make everyone’s life better?

One guesses that it has to be sex.

Even today, upon viewing the Wikipedia entry for bidet, one is immediately struck by the article’s statement that the bidet’s primary function is to cleanse genitalia.

Hmm.  Now why would houses with perfectly good showers need an extra apparatus to cleanse genitalia?  I think we may have spotted a myth here. The truth is, bidets are mainly used for the same thing that the toilet roll beside a toilet is used for in the US: to sanitize after going to the bathroom.  The only difference is that water is better for the purpose, as well as being much more pleasant.

The wikipedia article, however, is just the continuation of a long-held myth: that the bidet exists exclusively for couples to clean up before / after sex, and is therefore somehow kinky or perverted.  It’s gotten so bad that people just don’t question it any more.

So, essentially, the most important industrialized country is doomed to scrapes and discomfort for no reason other than prudishness dating back to the 17th century.

Interesting world we live in, isn’t it?

*And we could have illustrated this article…  and now we wonder how far one has to go before WordPress just tosses us out?