Well, this has happened to everyone at some point - you find out there is no toilet paper just after you need it the most. Usually it's not a big deal, even in public toilet room you can wait until you hear someone nearby and kindly ask for paper.

However when such thing happens in a foreign country it might get more complicated, e.g. you don't speak the native language well enough to know what to ask for or you fear the response of people from different culture.

Personally this happened to me only once in a "friendly" place (USA) with culture very similar to what I have at home (Israel) so I knew what you ask for and got help rather fast, but ever since I wonder sometimes what I would do in totally "foreign" place.

So, suppose such thing happens - what is considered best practice? Are there any cultures that might consider such request from innocent tourist as rude or even offensive?

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    Just use your socks instead... :D
    – rlab
    Feb 27, 2012 at 14:12
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    Avoid the situation in the first place: If you're in a place where it could be an issue carry toilet paper! Feb 27, 2012 at 17:10
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    This world we live in has kings and paupers, beautiful people and ugly people, mass murderers and living saints. But for a few minutes each day, every one of those people is just an intelligent ape sitting bare-assed over a hole in the ground, a slave to basic biology. I just can't imagine any culture that would find it appropriate to refuse to do, or take offense at, anything requested by such a person. Feb 28, 2012 at 1:07
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    +1 for awesome insights :) But consider that some cultures don't even use toilet paper but rather just water from a bucket. Consider that I don't know how to say "toilet paper" in most languages and can't demonstrate what I need from behind closed door. See my problem? Feb 28, 2012 at 7:18
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    @Mark oh, I see now. "Way around" the problem, just like in programming - I like that. :-) Feb 28, 2012 at 8:45

3 Answers 3


In most cultures where toilet paper is NOT used, people still need to clean up, right? Well the answer to that is they usually clean up with water. How this is done depends on how 'upmarket' your toilet is. The fancier toilets, even among squat toilets, have shower hose type attachments to a tap: use a stream from this hose down your nether regions.

The situation really gets hairy when you simply have a mug or jar left in the toilet. This is the most typical setup for many remote locations when travelling and probably the scariest. In this situation, the custom is to fill up the mug / jar - and there's no easy way to put this - pour a stream on your (left) hand and wipe off. Usually there should be soap left in the toilet for washing your hand after you've done this - 'remnants' (literally) will stick to your hand in many cases. If there isn't any soap then my best piece of advice is to always carry dry antibacterial handwash which you can buy in small bottles and even a tiny amount of handwash can clean / disinfect your hand efficiently.

  • Thanks, so far never used such method of cleaning but I see your point. Off topic, curious to know - in such toilets is it possible at all to use toilet paper? Guess it would clog the pipe so do they put container for "western" people? Feb 28, 2012 at 9:48
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    Whether toilet paper will clog the pipes or not is entirely up to the quality of the drainage and perhaps water pressure, rather than whether the toilet is squat or western style. In many developing countries you will find western toilets with signs telling you not to throw the paper in the toilet and a bin will be provided instead. I have seen the same signs by squat toilets. Then in Japan even at squat toilets you are expected to use and flush toilet paper. All combinations exist in our big exciting world! (-: Feb 28, 2012 at 10:11
  • @hippietrail thanks, for obvious reasons I always prefer to flush my used toilet paper away but not in the cost of clogging the toilet. From this answer I assumed he's talking about squat toilets in general as he's quite firm about Paper goes in a bucket or container nearby - NOT in the toilet. It can cause the toilet to actually clog Feb 28, 2012 at 11:48
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    Well yes it can clog some squats but not all, and it can clog some westerns but not all. If there's a basket/bin/bucket with scary used toilet paper in it, use that and don't flush. If there's a sign saying no paper in the loo then don't flush. In all other cases flush because you haven't been told otherwise and in that case clean is the best fallback option. Feb 28, 2012 at 11:59
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    If there isn't any toilet paper bin, or if it just has a mug: rule-of-thumb, it probably can't handle toilet paper if it's in a remote place. I'd say if it has that shower hose kind of thing though then they CAN probably also afford better plumbing and toilet paper can be flushed down. Feb 28, 2012 at 16:11

Well firstly, some find the whole 'toilet' discussion mildly gross, rude or offensive - even if some don't think so. Especially in certain cultures, trying to show what you want or need to do may draw laughter or anger. Be careful in Muslim cultures, where indicating or offering your left hand (the 'unclean' hand) can cause offense.

It's not a universal thing, either. Consider this quote:

Whilst traveling in the middle Atlas in Morocco we, (a small group of travelers), needed to “use nature’s bathroom’. We went outside, did our business opposite a breathtaking view and collected our toilet paper and burnt it and returned to the main tent. Our hosts did not understand English but the one word they managed to remember that we understood whilst they repeated our actions to the rest of their family was ‘toilet paper’. They found it incredibly funny that we actually use toilet paper.

Then there are different types of toilets, from western style ones, to Japanese toilets, to squatting toilets, to long drops, each with their own (excuse pun) pitfalls.

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However, if you approach people with a worried looking face, an apologetic expression, mention toilet and bunch one hand up and 'wipe' it with the other hand, it's amazing how simply signing and emotion can translate to someone in any language. Assuming they wipe, that is. The apologetic expression almost always avoids offense as well, as it's hard to take offense if the other person makes it plain and obvious that they're desperate not to cause it in the first place.

Worst case - outdoors, bushes, leaves. It's rough, but we managed for centuries this way, you can manage in a pinch ;)

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    Thanks for the very detailed answer! I already know most of this, but good to have it here nonetheless :) As for the first tip (approaching people with worried face..) it has one major flaw - I'm talking about cases where I find I'm out of paper only after doing my business so can't really approach anyone . As for the second tip (outdoors) been there done that but again, talking about indoor toilets - it's very rare to have leaves lying around in there. ;) Feb 28, 2012 at 7:29
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    Re bushes and leaves: Dangerous advice, if you don't know what you are doing. Rubbing your gentle gluteus maximus with stinging nettle is not for the faint of heart, and can cause.. significant discomfort, to put it mildly. Feb 28, 2012 at 8:10
  • @mindcorrosive indeed, but there's risk in everything, and I'd back myself to identify the stinging nettle upon grabbing it, if past experience is anything to go by :/
    – Mark Mayo
    Feb 28, 2012 at 8:43
  • @mindcorrosive very true, learned the hard way that when using anything other than soft paper I should not.. look for perfection - maybe it should be added to travel guides, lol! Feb 28, 2012 at 8:50
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    Be very careful which leaves you use! Some are shiny and do nothing. Others have tiny spikes or irritating hairs. Others contain irritating chemicals such as poison ivy, stinging nettle, and a whole bunch you never heard of before when the entire world is your playground! Feb 28, 2012 at 11:29

Less than a couple of centuries ago, people used whatever materials were to hand to wipe or scrape themselves clean (for instance, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper#History ). In 18th- and 19th-century London, oyster and mussel shells were commonly used. In some countries where toilet paper is in short supply, torn-up sheets of newspaper are often substituted.

If toilet paper and/or water-based cleaning is (or is likely to be) unavailable, some kind of scraping implement, like a large teaspoon or rigid spatula (such as the type used for applying hair-removal wax), is probably the most practical expedient. Depending on the location/situation, it may be possible to wipe the implement on adjacent vegetation or to knock it against a rock or some other hard object in order to dislodge accumulated excrement. Of course, this does presuppose that one has a suitable scraper on one's person when the need arises...

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    You might have a plastic spoon in your bag.
    – Willeke
    Jul 14, 2015 at 21:18

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