Toilet Paper: Art and Conversation Piece

For Molly

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The eponymously named toilet paper

Seems toilet paper has become front and center.

I got somewhat obsessed during my recent visit to India.

After just a few days on the journey, I ran out of the purse-packet size of Kleenex I brought for the trip, and ended up stuffing my bag with fistfuls of toilet tissue from our hotel.

The reason?

Most public toilets in India avoid paper altogether (it clogs the drain) and users rely instead on a blast of cold water from a hose in the loo.

The method is simple and basic, unlike the porcelain bidets of my youth, growing up overseas.

Bidets were commonplace in homes and hotels in the Middle East and Europe, where they’re plumbed right next to a Western toilet in high-class bathrooms.

Experts are uncertain how the term “bidet” evolved.

Oxford says the French term refers to a pony, and the verb (bider) means “to trot.”

The word takes on a new meaning when you consider our expression for “tummy” troubles when we lived in Iran: we called them the “Teheran trots.”

As kids we would play with the bidet’s many knobs and shoot water into the air, rather than using it for the intended nether regions.

My husband loves the method, but I prefer paper.

And handi-wipes. And towels. And warm water.

Hotels in India stock toilet paper, but in small bundles.

New rolls are about one-quarter the size of our American rolls.

Turns out an Indian toilet roll fits snugly into my purse, so my fears of running short were assuaged.

As a young lass I made objects from toilet paper.

My sculpting career started because I was never sleepy at nap-time and, in the evenings, I stayed awake long after night lights were switched off.

While my sisters slept, I invented songs and stories, or I’d sneak off to the bathroom where I discovered I could fashion little animals from fresh toilet paper, soap and water.

When  my husband and I returned from our travels to India, he announced my Christmas present would soon arrive.

I gave him his gifts before we departed abroad (where we spent Christmas and New Year) so I was pleased that he hadn’t forgotten.

I made him some flannel pajamas and found three books that he coveted.

Some warm, woolen socks and a watercolor I painted rounded out his bounty.

Truth is, I was excited about getting something he picked out especially for me.

I wondered if he had found the office chair he wanted to get me for my summer birthday.

Is it a chair, I asked?

You can sit on it, he said.

The box finally arrived this week and my husband carried it downstairs while I was running errands.

When I arrived home, he said my present had arrived.

I walked into my office: no chair. No box.

Look downstairs, he said.

He followed me while I raced down the steps.


I found a large box in the bathroom with a Toto-brand bidet that would replace our toilet seat with a “washlet,” complete with hose.

You won’t need toilet paper anymore, he said.



Today’s blog is dedicated to my pal, Molly, who—as a fellow traveler—well understands the bidet culture.

















About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in bidet, ex-pat, nativescience, travel to India. Bookmark the permalink.

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