News - March 18, 2020

Blog: Out of toilet paper? Use your left hand!

Angelo Braam

The corona-quarantine came sooner than expected for Resource blogger Angelo Braam. He stared in amazement at the run on toilet paper in Wageningen. His tip: use your hand and a splash of water.

And there we went, sooner than we hoped, in corona lockdown. Most people in the Netherlands did not expect chaos similar to Italy or China. We are too civilised for that…
Those who held this belief were in for a disappointment. Hordes of people were stocking up on toilet paper in Wageningen supermarkets on Friday, a truly hysterical spectacle. The fact that toilet paper seemed such a priority for panic buyers got me thinking about the absurdity of our survival instinct. Do we really need that toilet paper so badly?
Whether you travel to Turkey, Ethiopia or China -or any of the areas in between- never shake someone’s left hand. This is considered the ultimate act of disrespect. The left hand has an extra function in many cultures, a purpose that coincides with that of toilet paper in our culture. Gross, you may think. But that is precisely what they think of us.

‘Consider, for example, having a speck of poop or something similarly dirty on your arm. Would wiping it off with a piece of paper suffice? No, of course not. Why then would you consider wiping your bottom with just some paper?’ Wiping your bottom using your left hand and some soap, I couldn’t believe how disgusting that sounded at first. Still, having heard the explanation above, given by a Turkish friend, it began to make sense.

Gross, you may think. But that is precisely what they think of us.

After using the toilet in Turkey, you wash all used body parts with water, and your left hand and some soap, until everything is presentable again. Hygiene, according to the Turks, and my friend. And I must agree. ‘Europeans are very well-groomed, but it disgusts me that they use just a piece of paper to wipe their butt.’

115 rolls
And it’s not just Turks who think thus. During my travels in Africa and Asia, I found toilet paper to be the exception rather than the norm. Washing habits come in all shapes and forms with or without special attributes such as bidets, watering cans, or bumguns. They all demonstrate that toilet paper is overrated.
Aside from being hygienic, according to many, a paperless sanitary visit also has ecological advantages. In the Netherlands, we use approximately 115 rolls of toilet paper annually per household. What a waste of paper, that’s 115 rolls more than in Ethiopia.

Perhaps we should consider introducing bumguns in Wageningen. A nice addition to our sustainable image and an excellent survival tool in times of scarcity. Added bonus, if you use your left hand to clean yourself, you will never forget to wash your hands. Precisely the type of hygiene we need at this time. So: out of toilet paper? Use your left hand!