"About Toilet Paper Among other things" Top 5 Page for this destination Ahmadabad by Ekahau

Ahmadabad Travel Guide: 88 reviews and 133 photos

Don't Squeeze the Charmin

Finally, he just blurted it out to my Indian Friend. Straight out. "I hear these people use paper in the toilet, not water like we do after pakhane," he intoned in deep earnest Gujaratee.

The occasion for his astute insight was a walk my Indian coworker and I were taking in Ahmedabad shopping market. The stocky man had been stuck to me like a leech for the past 15 minutes, curious about my background — and, more obliquely, of my relationship with the “an Indian woman." Nothing I said could quite shake him off. So here I was, Plato to the greatest of all philosophical dilemmas troubling his Socratic soul. I had only haltingly begun my response in vary poor Gujaratee, "Kya bakwas karte hein aap..." when he piped in, his stare fixated on the offending buttocks, "It is strange to us, but then I have seen in the zoo that animals wipe themselves on the grass as well. If they can do that, this toilet paper must also be ok." His distress would appear incongruous in a country that must boast among the filthiest public toilets in the world and a public culture that is inhumane toward its sanitary workers.

But no matter. No such reality check would deter my swaggering, potbellied, 15-minute acquaintance from exuding his superiority at his toilet deportment over his Western nemesis. Curiously, social historians tend to think of the toilet as the ultimate democratizer. After all, everyone must pull his pants down or lift her skirt to relieve themselves. Only the facilities differ."

For this toilet-phile, Gujarat descendant of the grand Indus Valley civilization, which, with Mesopotamia, boasted the world’s first cesspits and sewer system, his hierarchy in the human order was measured by his particular talent at washing and fondling his buttocks after relieving himself. It did not occur to him that in vast parts of the world it could seem bizarre that Indians touch their discharge in the process of cleaning themselves. Perhaps in recognition of this oddity, Hinduism prescribes a strict regimen; right from how one holds his member to the use, or lack thereof, of the offending left hand in public protocol. Indeed, "advanced" civilizations with a penchant for the use of water after relief, such as Japan, have invented the bidet, in which a toilet
is equipped with a nozzle that discharges water scientifically positioned to affect proper cleaning
of the appropriate body parts, followed by a warm breeze for drying out.

If all this fascination with bodily relief is beginning to sound morbid, let me stop here. The point is that every culture has characteristics that may seem, quaint, even odd to outsiders. This is just one of the many issues that touches upon the culture shock many Indian immigrants experience on their first arrival in the United States. While reaction to these cultural variations often in the inanest of things may range from the hilarious to the shocking, one should be careful not to formulate judgments on the society and its people simply because they do some things differently. Lest we be like that toilet-phile in Aminabad who sings odes to his toilet etiquette while soiling his hands daily in his own excrement.

Bathrooms are “unclean” places

It must be remembered that most bathrooms in India have cement or tile floors and do not have rugs or mats. Bathrooms are “unclean” places in India and not a place of comfort as in the USA. This is not where you would got to read Time magazine. The floors have a drain in the corner of the room. This makes the bathrooms easily washed down. Therefore, splashing water all around is common place and not of any concern. Body fluids on the floor are the norm. Another issue regarding the bathroom is that in India, toilet paper is not used. Many Indians have no clue as to what toilet paper is or how it is used. The toilet itself is usually not to be sat on this is a very dirty thing to do. In the many male toilets I have visited there is a full time toilet cleaner, a female of the very lowest caste (outcast-untouchable). Her job is to keep the floor washed every few minutes and she will be bare footed, as an outcaste cannot ware shoes in front of a high caste person.

Often washing after toilet use is done by filling a bucket and then taking a small utensil, filling it from the bucket, wetting down the body, soaping up and then rinsing off using the utensil and the bucket of water. For most of the rural Indians, getting into a shower as such, or a bathtub is unheard of. As a matter of fact, in India, most people feel that sitting in a bath is not a very hygienic thing to do. Trying to get clean after immersing your dirty body in a tub of water does
not make sense to the average person in India. For the newly arrived Indian immigrants, our expectations are surprising to them and certainly they will need help in trying to understand what we may take for granted.

In India, cheap labor ensures that you really don’t have to do anything for yourself for there’s always the magical neighborhood electrician , carpenter or outcast toilet cleaner who is over in a jiffy to fix things. As a friend of mine, an American married to an Indian and settled in India, observes, "I don’t do as much hands-on stuff as I used to in the west. I don’t feel I’m creative in making things or learning to fix things any more. I’ve become more dependent, which is not necessarily a good thing."

As Indians living in America become more Americanized, the delights of personal cooks, carpenters and toilet cleaners become just happy memories, and they to have to learn to become quite handy with the tools, doing everything from painting their rooms to fixing clogged toilet bowels. Yes eventually Home Depot becomes Paradise but this is a long slow process.

From public displays, it’s a quick jump to public manners. An Indian immigrant friend advised
"In India, it is very rare that the person ahead will hold the door for you while passing by. So, I have to admit it took me some time to fathom the cold looks I got each time I let go of the door after me! At the same time, there are certainly some welcome cultural differences — such as the basic dignity of a human being, which America espouses so well. America is by no means perfect in matters of race and color, but there is a core respect for the human person. You won’t hear of poisoned wells set aside for low-caste people or shoot-outs because people despise the lowly work you do. The poor sweepers and toilet cleaners in India would be stunned by the exalted status of the sanitation

cultural difference is good

workers in America, who make pretty handsome salaries. But the way the serving person is looked upon is certainly a cultural difference.”

Indians have offered a lot to American society besides such wonderful food the numbers tell an more amazing story. Among Asian Indians in the work force in 1998, 34 percent were employed in professional specialty occupations, compared with 13 percent of all U.S. employees. Twenty percent of foreign-born Indian professionals are physicians, 26 percent are engineers, and 12 percent are post-secondary teachers, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies. Asian Indians are slightly over represented among managerial and sales/technical/clerical workers, and underrepresented among service and blue-collar workers, according to the 1990 census. Only 4% of Indian immigrants live below the poverty line,
compared with 31% of Mexicans and 8% of transplants from Britain. When it comes to welfare and food stamps, Indians are the most self-sufficient in the entire immigrant pool. Less than 0 .5% use public assistance; the figure for the next most self-reliant group, Filipinos, is nearly 4%. "Indians have had greater success in a shorter amount of time than any other ethnic group in America," says Rakesh Gangwal, the Calcutta-born chief executive of U.S. Airways, the country's sixth-biggest carrier. "And we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg. I may be ceo of a big corporation, but give it another 10 years and I'll probably be lost in the shuffle."

If American’s hope to maintain eadership in this fast-changing world, then we must make a conscious attempt to accept dynamism and change in our culture, to accept new ways of doing things and thinking that might prove to be more efficient. This implies that Americans, will have to set aside fears and discomforts in order to learn from other cultures. The simple fact is AMerica needs the skills the rest of the world has to offer. Tolerance and multiculturalism cannot be coerced - they do not demand that we instantly change our social life and forcefully adopt people of other cultures as close friends. Rather, multiculturalism is a state of mind that abolishes our cultural egoism and arrogance, and views other cultures with an open mind. It teaches us to accept the fact that every culture possesses both good and bad aspects, that culture must evolve to meet new demands, and that we should all be tolerant and patient enough to learn from each other.

After all not all the cultures in the world are as eager to hug and squeeze Charmin toilet tissue as
we are in America. Or to modify slightly the quote from that other great Midwestern bastion of intellectual culture Northwestern University’s loosing football cheer. You can use toilet paper if you like –“ that’s all right that’s OK” - but chances are “you will work for me” or my kids “someday”.

  • Last visit to Ahmadabad: Feb 2003
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (6)

Comments (23)

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Jul 31, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    I enjoyed reading your page about India here! Thanx...

  • Jun 26, 2008 at 5:53 AM

    Paul, this post was a true reflection of Inside view from Outside ... i.e. nice to read views about India from your end, also your interest in understanding people is really something to learn

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Jul 8, 2007 at 8:22 AM

    fascinating page

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    Apr 18, 2007 at 1:27 PM

    Interesting tips...have you really been to 119 countries? BTW Pittsburgh is not as "crowded, busy and polluted" as you might think. Joe

  • Norali's Profile Photo
    Apr 8, 2007 at 8:43 AM

    Nice picture & interesting reflection on "our way to do is not theirs". Thanks for visiting my Tana page. Pity I couldn't get your comment...

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Jan 17, 2007 at 3:49 AM

    Paul, a very interesting page on this little piece of India! Quite an ingenious idea for an 'air conditioner' and your description of the Gujarati food was mouth-watering!

  • SLLiew's Profile Photo
    Nov 30, 2006 at 4:41 PM

    Interesting opening statement.... in Malaysia, there is a choice of paper or water or both.

  • BluBluBlu's Profile Photo
    Aug 7, 2005 at 2:56 AM

    Great page...very informative...I loved the yoghurt curry in Surat!

  • kyoub's Profile Photo
    Jan 3, 2005 at 7:29 AM

    What an interesting page on cultural differences. The food catch my eye, why can't I find a good veggie place like this?

  • shashasharon's Profile Photo
    Oct 27, 2004 at 12:51 PM

    wow..what a page..what a detailed food tip..could you send me a recipe for chotpotti..sharon


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