How well do you wipe?

Indian toiletI lived for many years in countries where wiping after defecating is done very differently than in the USA. In India, like many countries, we stooped and pooped.  Then after relieving ourselves, we’d clean our soiled anus with water using our left hand.  We’d take some water from a nearby faucet or little pot and splash it on our anus several times and  then wipe both our anus until clean and next, wash our hands they too were beautifully clean. No toilet paper needed or wasted.

As some of you may know, Indians often eat with their hands. But  worry not, only the left hand was used for this wiping —  the Indian custom is that the right hand is reserved for eating food.

To illustrate these stooping methods, I found some instructions for both an Indian toilet and a Japanese toilet teaching foreigners how to use their toilets.  I could not find illustrations of the wiping technique.


Japanese Toilet Directions

Inevitably, when my American acquaintances hear of the Indian butt wiping style they are disgusted to think about touching poop directly with their hands.  They make fun of this primitive custom.  In reaction to their parochial disgust, I often rant as follows:

Oh, I see, instead I guess it is far more civilized to take a piece of paper and smear the poop into your butt crack.  You Americans just keep taking swipes and then checking your tissue each time until you decide, “there, that is clean enough”, and seal the deal by pulling up your pants to allowing the remaining bits to evolve into butt hair dingle berries and to scent your office space all day long.  Yuck !  Meanwhile, you let the precious remnants ferment until you eventually do the real cleaning in the shower or not.

Here are some photo-shopped pics of toilet paper with various degrees of wiping.  At what stage do you stop wiping?

first swipe

first swipe

second swipe

second swipe

third swipe

third swipe

Do you find this conversation disgusting?  Of course you do.  The human mind has a taboo area for disgusting and taboo subjects.  The interesting thing is that religion items get stuffed in this part of mind too.  I have seen this mental clumping together of scatology and soteriology when I have visited the mentally ill in several countries.  For when psychosis strikes, out comes both poop-talk and religious-talk !

So, is the Indian method of wiping really all that disgusting once someone points out how actually disgusting your unquestioned method can also be?  Actually, unless you have wiped your butt Indian style for a year or so with others who do the same, it would be hard for you to think objectively about my question.  Parochialism is amplified by the taboo part of the brain.  Alas, how difficult it is for us to really understand each other.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

49 responses to “How well do you wipe?

  1. I haven’t eaten breakfast yet and it’s 10:15 am. I’m prone to ulcers so I must eat.

    Therefore, I’ll postpone the reading of this post until…who knows when.

    The first two paragraphs may stop me from keeping breakfast down, though.

    Thank you very much, Sabio🙂

  2. Ian

    Over here in Europe we have bidets.

    After living with a bidet for a few years, I can’t go to a regular toilet now without *feeling* dirty walking around. Its grim.

    And yes, to use a bidet properly you have to get intimately involved in the process too. It also normally requires soap.

  3. Nick

    That’s all so primitive. Wet wipes are the only way to go.

  4. I will confess to being taboo driven then, because what you describe sounds very yucky, especially your retort to those unenlightened who don’t wipe their butt with their bare hands. Sorry, I meant hand, singular. And if I did that I would go around considering that hand immobile not touching anything and would not want to touch anything another person touched with their left hand. Or was it the right? Oh no!!!

    Your post immediately reminded me of this: R. Crumb is a *master* at breaking taboos. I laugh everytime I look at the linked poster when I think of actually putting it in my bathroom.

  5. @ attr — great link.

    I should add a story to fill out my bizarreness.
    On returning from India (at 22 years old) I went back to college to finish my 2 semesters. I felt very much an outsider – I was now “transitioning” out of Christianity, but I was still at a Christian college. Much of the transitioning entailed questioning all the assumptions I made and realizing everything could be done differently.

    So, I stooped on our toilet — and I used the faucet at the sink. My roommates were rightfully disgusted. I only did it for about 3 months before returning to “sanity”.

    BTW – think of our Ian above, he uses that hand after all that nasty European activity. Or geeeee, how about shaking hands with a guy with wet hair — you know he just got out of the shower !

    Yuck, double yuck !

  6. Yuck, double yuck !

    Ah, Sabio, have you no compassion for the faint of heart?

    Just kidding!

  7. Temaskian

    Quite curious about how the Japanese-style toilets work, I mean the third picture.

    Spraying with water instead of using paper certainly makes some sense. But how do you dry it afterwards?

  8. Japanese aren’t barbarians like the Indians — they use toilet paper, but they do squat. But they are not as sophisticated as the Europeans with spraying water — you will have to ask Ian about drying.

    I am a paleo-American — we are more primitive than those Indians ! Smile. (thanx for stopping in Temaskian)

  9. Temaskian

    Bidets — cool! I’m eating breakfast as I read and type all these. I used to gross girls out with shit-talk when I was a kid, during recess time. They would stop eating on the spot.

    I finally got Windows to stop crashing on me.

    You mean you’re an American Indian?

  10. Nope – wild Welsh-American

  11. Temaskian

    So you were originally from Wales, and your ancestors settled in America long before Columbus arrived?

  12. No, my Great-grandfather came from Wales to set up a shipping company on the Great Lakes, died at 35 years old and my grandfather got orphaned out to be cared for by, presumably, privilege white folks who inherited the plunder of land and rights from others. The rest of the history is too sordid for this format !

  13. “The human mind has a taboo area for disgusting and taboo subjects.”

    That’s an objective claim about something I’d say was largely culturally relative.

    There is a section in Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age, where he’s talking about social imaginaries and how Western society became increasingly obsessed with manners and politeness during the modern period. He mentions one of the first books on manners, which was published in the 1600s in England, where it is specifically stated that, when walking through the streets of the town with a friend, it is not proper behaviour to stoop down and pick up a lump of poo off the street (probably dropped out of someone’s window from a chamber pot) and offer it to your friend to smell. This obviously presumes that this was at the time quite common practice among normal people. There’s also evidence that back then it was considered an honour if someone let you sit in with them while they took a crap. It was a sign of intimacy and trust. Indeed, only the king’s most trusted and loved family and friends had this privilege.

    So I agree there are always taboo subjects, but these clearly fluctuate from culture to culture and age to age, and so unlike you I wouldn’t simply reduce everything to psychologism. What is considered “disgusting” now, will not always have been thought so, and will not be thought so in other parts of the world (kind of your point, I think, re. styles of wiping your arse).

    Of course you can now get integrated toilet/bidets where you can take a crap, and then it will wash you AND dry you without you having to do anything. That is the pinnacle of human civilization right there. Thank you science!

  14. Temaskian

    “it is not proper behaviour to stoop down and pick up a lump of poo off the street (probably dropped out of someone’s window from a chamber pot) and offer it to your friend to smell.”

    I can’t imagine that this was ever a normal practice. It was probably a tongue in cheek statement.

  15. Afraid not my man, though thanks for the interpretive tip…

    Direct quote from Taylor, p.138:

    “…a tremendous shift in manners which accompanies the later ideal of civility, and later civilization. This starts off among the elites of course, but then spreads during the 19th century virtually to the whole society. The shift involves a steady raising of the threshold of embarrassment, one might even say, disgust, which is quite remarkable. It is with surprise and not a little shock, that we discover how things were back in 1500.

    “Early books of etiquette admonish people not to blow their nose on the table cloth. A book of 1558 tells us that it is not a “very fine habit”, when one comes across excrement in the street to point it out to another, and hold it up for him to smell […] clearly we are in an age whose standards in this regard are far removed from our own”.

    Another source for this is the German sociologist, Norbert Elias, and his book _The Civilizing Process_.

    Does that sufficiently stretch your imagination?

  16. @ Simon — good to have you back, my friend.
    You are right, I made an objective claim.
    I am pretty sure fMRI studies have isolated taboo areas. But you are right, just because the brain contains them, don’t tell you how they get there — which I was not saying. I agree that taboos are often (and to degree) set by society — sacred and taboo are a pair.
    Thanks for the great examples. Smile
    In ethics research, models describing moral disgust used in moral reasoning involve taboo. I think the fMRI studies were coupled to these. Pinker and his crowd discuss this area.
    Anyway, you probably know this, but wanted to mention where I was coming from.

  17. Have heard something generally along those lines, but the detail is helpful. Thanks.

    Where has the comments widget gone on your sidebar? I found it helpful in keeping up with conversations. Though I’m sure you have a good reason for removing it.

  18. I wrote to WordPress because I asked for the option to keep my own comments out of the comment bar. I never knew people used it. I will put it back just for you ! Thanx for asking.

  19. Great, thanks! It’s definitely useful to me, don’t know about anyone else.

  20. Temaskian

    I have to admit that my imagination must have gone stiff with age. Still find it hard to believe. Blowing nose on table cloth is a bit easier to imagine…

    I suppose the sewage system was so bad then, bad smells were probably more common than in present days.

  21. atimetorend

    it is not proper behaviour to stoop down and pick up a lump of poo off the street (probably dropped out of someone’s window from a chamber pot) and offer it to your friend to smell.

    It is hard to imagine that being normal behavior for adults. But come to think of it, it would not have been abnormal behavior for me and my friends when we were younger. The funny thing is why anyone ever takes someone up on the offer of, “Hey, smell this!”

    I like the comments widget too.

  22. Temaskian – yeah, which is why people used to douse themselves in very, very strong perfumes and other strong smelling things.

    It’s interesting to me that both you and ATTR have reacted this way, however, as it kind of illustrates one of Taylor’s main points, which is that we can’t really understand the norms and behaviours of different generations or cultures, because they are outside our “social imaginary” – which is the big, wide framework of cultural presuppositions (social norms, value etc.) which sit underneath what we think and do, often without our knowing it. (I don’t mean that to sound patronising, just in case it does; I’m in the same boat as you guys, as a 21st Century Westerner).

    I have no idea why someone would hold excrement up for someone to smell either, but that doesn’t mean whoever did it was a dirty, nasty, less evolved kind of human (or not an “adult” to use ATTR’s phrase), just that the cultural norms which informed that act were radically different from ours, and so we can’t make sense of it from within our own social imaginary.

    Just some thoughts.

  23. Temaskian

    (I don’t mean that to sound patronising, just in case it does; I’m in the same boat as you guys, as a 21st Century Westerner).

    No worries, Simon. We were not under the misapprehension that you came here in a time machine.

    What you brought up was most interesting; how did you happen to come upon that piece of information? It’s certainly blown my mind some.

    Are you some kind of historian or something? Or just an avid reader?🙂

  24. I’m in grad school in England, and did a module on Charles Taylor’s ‘A Secular Age’ book (where the above quote is from). It’s a massive 800 page thing (with small print), which covers the years 1500 to 2000, basically looking at the shifts in Western culture, and focussing on how the West went from a Christendom-type culture to an overwhelmingly secular one. He tries to counter the orthodox secularisation narratives that say that people become more scientific, religion goes out the window, to say that it is more complex than that. Anyway, it goes into stupid levels of depth, so you learn a hell of a lot reading it, including, as you’ve seen, the poop-handling habits of the average person in Tudor Britain.🙂

    Hard to believe that that etiquette book was written at the same time Shakespeare was writing.

  25. Temaskian


    Thanks for the explanation. You’re getting an interesting education, to say the least. Good for you.

  26. @ Simon

    For me, I had to live in cultures that had very different “common senses” to wake me up to the arbitrary nature of our taboos and cultures.

    Likewise, running into the variety of religious ideas used well by superb people help me realize the arbitrary nature of our attachment to the particulars of our beliefs instead of realizing how they can be understood with cognitive mysticism — the understanding that it is the web of support formed by our beliefs rather than their truth values that matter.

    For me it took a swift kick in the head several times to start to understand this while creating a life abroad and living on a shoe string. Others, like yourself, much more clever than myself can get it by reading and introspection. It is a matter of how deep and dissecting the insight goes. (smile)

  27. @Sabio, in all seriousness, reading some of the people they make me read is very much like getting kicked in the head.

  28. Cally

    [Deleted for comment policy violation]

  29. Tim

    Just read this. Hilarious! Brandon just dragged my Luddite butt into the blogosphere. I can’t breathe!

  30. @ Tim: Glad you enjoyed. Parochialism is purulent !

  31. Pingback: Bhakta Ed Experiences Culture Shock « View From a New Vrindaban Ridge

  32. Note to readers: The above link by Bhakta Ed is to his creative blog.
    Seems the the Krishna Consciousness folks did a fun “Onion”-like spoof on toilet paper here and Ed did his note on it.
    Give it a read — fun writing.
    Thanks for visiting, Ed.

  33. Bhakta Ed

    Hi Sabio… I am glad you enjoyed my humble attempt at humor and writing. When I was googling for info on poop I came across your blog. I really like your entire thing… not just the article I sited. You have certainty, even-handedness and intelligence in your approach. I read quite a bit more than I planned and book-marked it so I can return.
    I’m glad my article gave you your first contact with the “orange clad folks…”. I am not initiated nor am I a member. I do, however, have a number of friends that are initiated and have membership. I love the temples, the food is amazing and kirtan is my current favorite form of music. The term “Bhakta”, which has been placed in front of my first name could be roughly translated, “one who hangs around and eats our food”.
    In my “Picture of Things”, atheists are as “right” as anyone else. This “Whole Thing” is too big, complex and incomprehensible for anybody to say, “I totally get it. Let me tell you how things are.”
    You might enjoy a writer from Minneapolis by the name of Steve Hagen. His books have been known to have the word “Buddhism” in the title but he almost never mentions Buddha. Steve has been my teacher for many years at Dharma Fields and I think you two would enjoy a chat.
    Let’s keep in contact… Thanks, Ed

  34. Thanx Ed — indeed, let’s keep in contact.

  35. house garden

    Sabio, this is a gross topic.😀 I’m glad I didn’t have any food in my hand when I was reading it.

    I’m an Asian and never be able and NEVER WILL be able to just wipe with dry tissues. It has to be with water period. That’s why I hate it when toilets in shopping centers are so ignorant to the local culture and only provide tissues without water sprayer.

    Nice post!🙂

  36. Thanx, house garden — glad you liked it.

  37. An apt, if gross, comparison. 🙂

  38. @ Leah
    I am glad you got the comparison.
    I often dwell on the scatological much as one Buddhist practice is to meditate on the gross rotting nature of our bodies. To embrace our insignificance and our profanity can be more freeing that the false assurance of fine perfumes, rich clothing and well-rehearsed conversations.

  39. So I don’t only use toilet paper but also use water. I would like to be able to eat off of my anus if I were in some terrible situation which required me to eat off my anus.

  40. @ Jessica :
    So now the question is, “Do you waddle over to the sink with your pants at your ankle to wet your tissue or come to the pot prepared wtih wet tissue. Or do you do your business in the shower?

  41. exrelayman

    Simple solution. At end of process, apply a bit of body lotion to wiping tissue, then use a dry tissue for final wipe. Lotion does not tend to disintegrate tissue as much as water does. A small vial of lotion can be taken into public toilets.

    Upon leaving public toilets, after using a paper towel to dry hands after washing (filters of air blowers are seldom changed as much as needed), keep towel in hand while turning faucet off and pulling door handle to exit restroom. Carry a wet wipe to use when this is not an available option.

  42. Wow, exrelayman, you live in a much more scary world than I do. I eat things that drop on the floor with no hesitation. We all have different temperaments, eh? And we all think our temperament is virtuous.

  43. exrelayman

    Does looking both ways before you cross the street mean you are afraid to do so? Simple prudence. I have read unpalatable reports about how many people don’t even wash their hands after using the toilet. I have eaten bits that I dropped on MY floor also.

    Just also wanted it known that western people can be at least equally clean without having to use the bare hand and water, and disparage the silliness of the superiority posturing by both sides of this issue (tissue).

  44. vince333

    Sabio Lantz
    10/16/2009 at 8:25 pm

    Japanese aren’t barbarians like the Indians …

    check out the link below and tell me..

    I know your country is well developed and civilized, what happened now?
    Poop burgers? enjoy it… atleast, we dont eat poop but, there could be ppl like you everywhere…
    sry for poor english / grammar..

  45. Sherri Washington

    Actually I wipe several times and finish off with a baby wipe I too find it disgusting to only wipe with toilet paper and as you said swear it all over your crack

  46. @Sherry: Thanx for sharing !! 🙂

  47. Anax

    For more than the last decade I’ve been wiping once and then washing with water and soap. Best of both worlds: hand feels clean, butt and underwear smell nice.

  48. @ Anax,
    Fantastic — perfect solution. LOL

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