Friday, 3 April 2020

Toilet Paper Culture: an Australian Viewpoint from Croatia

April 3, 2020 - Australian toilet paper culture made global headlines last month, as fights broke out in supermarkets between people hoarding due to coronavirus. A little Australian insight into the whole toilet paper culture from an Aussie in Croatia. 

One of the more interesting reads in recent days on TCN has been the new series called Foreigner Self-Isolating in Croatia: Do You Feel Safer? It looks at the experiences from expats living in Croatia from all over the world, and so far there are contributions from Romania, Germany, Spain, USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, India, Hong Kong, UK and Ireland. I decided to contribute my thoughts and sent my answers to Paul, which will be online shortly. But he was delighted to hear from me, for I was the first Australian to answer, which meant I had an extra task. This extra task has turned into the article below. 

As an Aussie in Croatia, I got the bonus question about toilet paper, and the heavy task of responding on behalf of my fellow citizens on the topic. 

To clarify, I am a dual Australian Croatian national. This means I have enough toilet paper -  even alcohol - but being in Croatia, now I don’t have any yeast to make donuts and stuff.

The toilet paper thing puzzles me, too. There is no shortage; it’s ‘an artificial famine’. I have read up academic and anecdotal views to try to understand it. This is a culmination of my findings. 

I woke up one morning - 4th March - to see a witty friend post this:



I knew it was going to be a good meme day. 

A Lebanese-Australian man’s video about “Australians looking like idiots” went viral. And for good reason. His 84-year-old uncle - who carried him as an infant through war zones - called him from Lebanon to check in. In Australia we all know the overseas relatives never call.

This was serious.

Above: A senior in Australia facing empty shelves - no bread. Senior specific hours and “Basics Boxes” are now being offered due to the stockpiling by panic buyers.

Factor 1: The Fires

To be fair, Australia was just coming out of apocalyptic bushfires. May I repeat: A-PO-CA-LYP-TIC. For those who haven’t been to Australia - or even have - if you were to visit one beach a day in Australia, it would take you 27 YEARS to see them all. It’s a big country. There’s a lot of bush (trees) and it was also the peak of summer. So everyone was on one big beach. Not true - that was Bondi after social distancing was announced. Still. It was hot. Cities were covered in smoke from fires for weeks - the smoke even reached other countries. Australia is an island. Think about that. New terms became mainstream on the news: “megablaze” and “ember attack”. Two - you guessed it - mega blazes, eventually merging between the state of Victoria and New South Wales. This is like all of Poland burning through and coming into Dalmatia. No it’s not, but I’m going for effect. It was mega.

People are still sleeping in tents.

My family were among the many stuck for days on holiday coastal towns with red skies, people and horses seeking safety on beaches, roads closed. At times, there was no water supply. Power would go out. A drive which took 2-3 hours took 2-3 times that - if the road didn’t get blocked by falling, flaming trees. Lives, wildlife and livelihoods were lost.

This, clearly, disrupted supply chains and business sectors, particularly tourism. So the panic buying isn’t a total surprise, given the timing. What is surprising is going from the solidarity and care shown around the fires to communities in these burnt out places - to now all-out supermarket brawls. 

A sense of fear and lack is looming with COVID19. 

Australia has never faced a significant physical threat (natural disasters aside). Toilet paper has become a symbol of control in an uncertain time.

Factor 2: Status, Culture and Control

I could harp on about how relative status is here - but Seth Godin does it better, so I won’t. What needs to be considered is Australia is dubbed The Lucky Country. Anyone - people who don’t even speak the language, can come to Australia and thrive through hard work and fair dinkum-ness. Sure, a lot has changed. The living ain’t cheap. As such, many living standards are high. Toilet paper can be classed as a symbol of this status everyone is working so hard for - if you deprive someone of that, you’re depriving them of their hard work.

Just to note, compared to Europe, nobody - nobody charges you to use a public toilet. It’s just a given - which is what Aussies expect, subconsciously, about the toilet-going experience. Enough toilet paper is thus seen as a ‘right’ vs a privilege.

Toilets are also immortalised in film and song. One of the most popular Australian-made films is ‘Kenny’ - a mockumentary about a plumber guy and the portable toilet industry. And one of the most famous country singers, Slim Dusty, gives an ode to the dunny with his song Redback on the Toilet Seat. 

We know going to the loo can be dangerous, but it doesn’t need to be. Toilet paper is part of that safety.

Factor 3: Spiders and Supermarkets. 

What is strange is Australia is a country where everything can kill you, and we still walk around barefoot. The sun, the sea (rips), sharks, spiders, snakes - yet we go along our merry way at ease living with these threats. Take our toilet paper away, and we (some) become monsters. 

A friend in an affluent suburb reported their small supermarket had plenty of toilet paper. Even in the peak of panic-buying! This could be related to socio-economics and more shoppers at one time in suburban centres. Also, it does take up a lot of room on the shelves, so when it disappears, you notice. 

The scenes we’re seeing - of fighting in supermarkets, is, unfortunately, a response to the fear and sense of lack many feel right now. 

There is plenty of toilet paper in Australia. It just gets bought up by a certain type of consumer.

The best response I found was chef Adam Liaw who is always articulate and hilarious:

“If you are one of the people who has panic-bought a 6-month supply of toilet paper I think you should go home and look at your enormous pile of toilet paper and think about what you’ve done.

That, and:

Just imagine if, after everything, you finally went out for dinner to a Chinese restaurant and ended up getting coronavirus from Tom bloody Hanks.

I’ll leave it there. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Toilet Paper, Toilet Paper, My Kingdom for Some Toilet Paper

March 17, 2020 - Toilet paper has become a global currency in recent days with the coronavirus crisis. Making plans to cope when supplies run out.  

Someone emailed me yesterday to ask if I could write a funny blog to lighten the mood of this very serious situation we find ourselves in. I realise that humour at a time of crisis rarely goes down well with all, but at the same time, humour is one of the best medicines of the soul. And so I decided to try and come up with a relevant topic to hopefully put a smile on at least a few faces. 

And, as I was scratching around for a topic as I was doing the business on my throne in the bathroom yesterday morning, I reached for the toilet paper and realised that there was the topic of my article - toilet paper. 

A product that many of us have always taken for granted has suddenly become one of the hottest commodities on the planet, and Australians distinguished themselves more than usual recently, fighting over toilet paper purchases in the shopping aisles of Australian supermarkets. 

It was a moment in time during a serious global crisis which has already been immortalised in this quite epic piece above, The Ballad of Dunny-Roll, by S.J. Paterson. 

The thing is, though, hand on heart, how many of us would be comfortable if our toilet paper supplies run out? Which they will in all probability. 

It was one of the topics that weighed on my mind as we took a family decision on how to deal with the corona crisis as a family. Self-isolation was beyond question, and with schools closed and no tourists coming to our rental home in Jelsa, we decided to hole ourselves up away from everyone there - at least we would have sunshine and that great terrace. 

Choosing to spend what will inevitably be a couple of months, not weeks, minimum, comes with its own calculations. As some food shortages will happen on the mainland, those will be accentuated on an island. This is offset somewhat by the fact my wife's family has a field and grows a lot of its own food. And rather tasty it is too.

But one of the items which is certain to be in very short supply quite quickly is toilet paper. So what to do? 

toilet-paper (1).jpg

The natural thing to do, of course, is to stock up on all you need to see things through. There are two problems with this plan. If we all go panic buying, we will end up like our Australian brothers. Secondly, we don't know how long this will last. Should we have bought toilet paper for two weeks? Two months? Six? And what happens then, when there is no more toilet paper to be had, but our daily urges continue? We will be forced to do what humans have always done in times of crisis. 


I am as scared as anyone about this virus, but rather than panic, I see it as an opportunity for reflection on our lifestyles in some ways. We decided not to panic buy, but to stock up sensibly, and whatever comes next, I know we will emerge a lot stronger as a family because of it. The kids are excited about no school of course, but it is also the case that these years and whatever comes next will be one of their strongest childhood memories. If we can try and inspire community values and togetherness in this time of crisis, perhaps those values will be remembered later in life as well.   

As the ferry from Drvenik pulled away, destination eastern Hvar, there was no turning back. We had what we had, and we would self-isolate at home. I decided to test the solidarity of the team with my wife and two daughters.

"So how many toilet rolls do we have in total?"


"Hmmm, ok so 5 each then, is that fair? Seems fair to me, so that each is responsible for their own stash. This will teach you to be economical. And when yours runs out, it runs out. Deal?"

"Not really, Dad, we all know that boys don't use toilet paper on their weenies after peeing. It would be much fairer if we all got six and you two."

Life in a democratic household run by women in 2020.

toilet-paper (2).jpg

And so, here I am, reduced to two rolls of toilet paper until my luck runs out. What then, I contemplated, while taking in the early morning Jelsa terrace view. 

And what will everyone else do?  

Well, I think it could finally see some households in the Balkans making use of a device for which it was designed - the humble bidet. 


One of the many minor fascinations of life in this region over the last 18 years is the number of bidets I have come across in Balkan bathrooms. Bidets which are out of use, due to their function as a storage area for, among other things... toilet paper. (NB, Although I now regret not documenting some of my favourite classics, which included someone growing plants in a bidet in Dalmatia, there photos are courtesy of a highly recommended article - Bidet? No way! 7 Alternative Uses). 


Bidets also function as excellent bathroom mini-libraries, for those keen to spend an extended period of The Throne.  


And don't underestimate the amount of bidet pet action seen by the domestic animals of the region. 

But now, at a time of national and international crisis, is it time to mobilise and requisition the bidets of Croatia and put them to their original use, which includes washing bottoms?


For those who are not quite sure how a bidet functions - and I guarantee there are some judging by the suggested Google searches above - we should learn a lesson or two from the French, not a recommendation I usually give.  

The French don't do many things well - well apart from wine, cheese and striking. And allegedly they are pretty good in the sack, better than the British, although I am sure this is an urban myth. Oh yes, and the French are VERY good at washing their bottoms with bidets. And while researching this article, I learned that 'bidet' means pony or small horse. The mind boggles at what really goes on in French bathrooms. Here is how they do it in the video above.   


Don't have a bidet? I found these poor man solutions online for £1.99, if Amazon are still delivering where you are. A word of caution, however - these water pistols require expert precision to do a proper job, a little tricky unless you have a loved one willing to help out. 

Of course, if the wellbeing of your bottom is a key consideration in this crisis, then you should have chosen Japan. Japanese toilets are INCREDIBLE. No need for bog roll there, just a selection of squirting speeds and techniques and blow-dry finish. As you can see from my video tour of my bathroom at the Tokyo Grand Hyatt Hotel a few years ago, on a trip for TCN, the Japanese toilet is the benchmark to which all bottom cleaners should aspire. 

Ah, those were the days. And here I am now, stuck on an idyllic island with just two rolls of toilet paper to my name. 

"Don't worry," said my sister-in-law cheerfully. "We are used to life without toilet roll. When we worked in the field as kids, we used leaves all the time."

"Cool. Do you have any recommended leaves?"

"Oh yes, there are several, I can show you no problem. As well as the leaves that I would definitely NOT recommend."

I can feel a video series on TCN coming soon. 

In the meantime, I will economise with every sheet until the last sheet is used. And then, Operation Bottom Adaptation will begin.