An interesting editorial in The Economic Times, “An unusual shortage in Venezuela or is it cultural resistance?” about the shortage of toilet paper in Venezuela, states that
“Americans use an astounding 23 toilet rolls per person every year on an average, roughly equivalent to a quarter of a tree, as paper is processed from wood pulp.
Given the population of the US and adding other toilet roll-using nations in the calculation, entire swathes of forests are cut down every year for this. That is a bum deal indeed for the environment.”
The editorial also mentions “the discriminatory practice of categorising nations as “wet” or “dry”, with the paper-aided deemed superior.”
For those who are interested in more information on toilet paper, Wikipedia has at least one page devoted to this subject. For now, I am concerned about our attitude to “Indian or foreign: which is better?”
One morning during a business trip outside India, my host and I were joined at breakfast by his business associate. When my host introduced me as his dealer from India, the business associate said something in the local language and started giggling, while my host was plainly embarrassed. In response to my query, my host said it was a private joke. When I insisted on knowing the ‘private joke’ (since it was apparent that it was about me):
Host: He said that in India, you eat with your hands.
I: Actually, we eat with our fingers. In any case, why is that funny?
Host: Er, well, … you don’t use toilet paper for cleaning. You use your hand. … Sorry!
I: No problem! You need not apologise. We are as concerned about hygiene as you are. We have a system for this. Let me explain. Yes, we don’t use toilet paper, we use water. But, we wash our hands with disinfectant soap after ‘cleaning’. Secondly, we use the left hand for ‘cleaning’, but we use the right hand for eating. In any case, don’t you use your hand to hold the toilet paper for ‘cleaning’?
Host: I’m so sorry!
I: Don’t worry! I’m not upset. In fact, I’m pleased I could explain to you. I’m sure you saw that I was smiling during our discussion!
When we come across any foreign practice that is different from the corresponding Indian practice, many of us Indians blindly accept that the foreign practice is better, particularly if it from the west. Others refuse to consider that our traditions and practices could do with improvement and/or change. We must understand that ‘different’ does not mean ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’. We should not blindly accept foreign ‘superiority’. At the same time, we must have an open mind and must be open to change.