October 25th, 2005



Halloween is approaching in the US....though I think that,mostly, people are the same everywhere, differences in customs do interest me. Here, the dust everywhere ensures that all too often, we have actual "websites" hanging greyly from various corners in our houses, and it is a chore to clean the cobwebs off...and in the US, in banks and offices and I don't know how many homes, it is such an unknown entity that they actually use artificial webspray to create cobwebs to set the scene for Halloween decorations!

In the same way, when my daughter invited someone home for dinner, she came wearing a brooch in the shape and form of a lizard. To us, this is a sometimes-tolerated (it eats cockroaches) and sometimes-hated, but very common, domestic creature...we would not dream of wearing jewellery in its shape. Though one of the most popular of the very beautiful mud-sculptures in West Bengal when I grew up was an intensely realistic one of a lizard eating up a cockroach, I would never have actually bought one of those, either!

Makes me think, though...why would the shape of a cobra be so commonly used in jewellery when that, too, was quite common some decades ago? The ways of human beings are unendingly interesting!

Toilet Culture

I recently received pictures of a new public toilet abroad, the walls of which are totally transparent from inside (for the user) but which looks as if it has mirror walls from the outside. The thought-provoking question was, "Would you use it?" My American architect friend responded, "I would hate to use it at night when it would have to be lighted up." This had not occurred to me...but what I noticed in the picture was a drinking fountain set just above the toilet bowl...and that got me thinking about cultural differences. In the East, we always associate toilet with uncleanliness, and we would never dream of drinking out of a water fountain set above a water closet. When our toilets are usually dirty, and indeed, are often open fields, the association with lack of cleanliness and hygiene is too deeply ingrained. Even my own friends, who know rationally that the same water comes out of the taps in their kitchen as well as their bathroom, would hesitate to drink the water in the latter location.

Water v. paper is another major cultural difference between the East and West. "How on earth can anyone clean themselves with these pieces of paper?" yelled a relative who went to live with her daughter in Toronto. I personally cannot do without water,either...I usually make do with one of the plastic yogurt tubs! Wet wipes seem to be a compromise that may still leave many unsatisfied (and perhaps unwiped!)

One habit which I would like my compatriots to learn from the West is the practice of washing hands after using the toilet...I am sure there will be much less disease if this were adopted. But this, alas, also requires a lot of water, which we have very little of...I dream of the day when my country will have clean public toilets.... and when we will stop having open toilets on trains, too....!

But as long as I live, I am destined never to get used to ONLY toilet paper, and will always be..."Little Lota"!