Switching cultural languages


When I first read the sign in the bathroom that asked in broken English for all paper to be thrown in the trash and not in the toilet, I assumed it was translated incorrectly. Because how on earth could people deposit their soiled toilet paper in a can and leave it there, in the house? I had bucket flushed my way through the Philippines, but this practice struck me as way more unsettling.

After seeing significantly placed trash cans and/or strongly worded signs in every bathroom in the country except in the fanciest hotels, throwing my dirty paper in the trash became a thoughtless fact of life. I got used to it far more quickly than I would have imagined, and the first time I used the bathroom upon returning to the States, I hesitated before dropping the paper in the toilet, needing a second to convince myself I wasn’t about to do something horribly wrong that would ruin the pipes. But within a day I was mindlessly back to my old habits, including unwinding way more toilet paper around my hand than I actually needed, because I’m a germaphobe and the toilet paper here is cheap and readily available. Elsewhere, it’s a luxury item and I used the bare minimum necessary to not be gross.

Though it’s perhaps not the best thing to talk about in public, my nearly auto-pilot switches back and forth between one mode of toilet paper usage and another really struck me. I guess I hadn’t thought about the fact that every culture has a nuanced, far reaching language all its own, and that learning to speak a cultural language is its own process distinct from any linguistic one. Or maybe I had thought of that before, but not in relation to something as banal as toilet paper.

(P.S. I’m going to try to speak the cultural language of sustainability and reduce my T.P. usage, now that I’ve seen what I’m capable of.)

One thought on “Switching cultural languages

  1. Many countries where they can’t flush the Toilet Paper use water instead but some, like Mexico, don’t even have that. Now that you’re back in the States you should get a Hand Held Bidet Sprayer so you an wash with water instead of smearing with wads of Toilet Paper. Toilet Paper is just nasty and not hygienic, especially for a germaphobe!

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