If you’re a European who’s traveled the US, you’ve probably met with an issue that’s both uncomfortable to discuss and just plain uncomfortable: public restroom toilet paper.

Whether you find yourself in a gas station WC or the restrooms of a swanky lobby on 5th Avenue, you’ll notice that the paper is low quality, thin, and easily tear-able.

Is the “most powerful nation on Earth” skimping on the quality of their TP to balance their budget?

Believe it or not, there’s an even more logical reason for this discernible difference in toilet paper quality.

The Folders vs. The Crumplers

The thing is, Americans don’t complain about their substandard toilet paper, and researchers have actually investigated this phenomenon.

What they found is that Europeans and Americans use toilet paper fundamentally differently.

Europeans fold toilet paper. They might take two sheets from the roll and carefully fold them in half and then again. This method is so ingrained that when European toilet paper companies put out double- or triple-ply TP, Europeans still folded it.

Americans, on the other hand, are crumplers. They take a few sheets, crumple them up, and then use them.

This is why public restroom toilet paper can be thin or “substandard,” as Europeans might see it: because if you’re a folder, you need a sturdier paper. Resistance from tearing is more important for folders than for crumplers.

This is unconscious learning at its finest.

What is Unconscious Learning?

Primary socialization is unconscious learning. As opposed to conscious learning – like learning in school – unconscious learning is when you learn your culture without even knowing it.

Unconscious learning has three aspects:

  1. Most often, no one remembers how they learned their method (in this case, the way they learned to use toilet paper)
  2. Before the cultural differences were researched, no one knew there was a difference in method across cultures
  3. Everyone assumed the method of use was the same, the world over

The point is: while some cultural differences are obvious and clear, some are hidden and may take more digging to uncover the truth.

You are NOT Normal

As we’ve continually highlighted in this blog: you are NOT normal.

There is no universal normal, so while you might follow the norm of your own culture, you’d be abnormal in another. See: The Great Toilet Paper Conundrum.

If you’re integrating into a foreign culture, how might the locals respond to your “abnormal” methods?

In Welcome to Germerica, blogger Courtney researched the use of toilet paper in Germanic culture versus American culture. She writes: “I actually found one hilarious forum where the Germans were calling anyone that folds their toilet paper a barbarian, and the Americans were replying that folding simply takes too much time.”

While calling someone’s use of toilet paper “barbaric” is an obvious joke, it does bring about our most important take-away from the Great Toilet Paper Conundrum: cultural differences don’t make you any better or more civilized than another, and understanding that is the key to success across cultures.

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