French Toilet Paper: Unraveling the Quirkiness of Cultural Differences

When you visit France, sit on the dock in the town of Annecy and watch a pink and blue sunset like this one, and contemplate why all the flowery, pink French toilet paper has a matching motif. ©KettiWilhelm2019

From the perspective of an expat living in France, let’s explore the fascinating interplay between globalization, culture, and the unexpected revelations that come with living abroad. Today, we delve into an unusual subject that might get overlooked – the color of toilet paper.

The Mysterious Case of Daniel’s Toilet Paper

A peculiar incident occurred when Daniel, my virtual roommate and Swiss professor, left behind a roll of toilet paper adorned with little pink flowers. Identifying that this flowery roll couldn’t possibly be mine, I found it intriguing that amongst the vast sea of toilet paper in France, there would be only one package that lacked the characteristic pink hue and floral patterns. Determined, I always made it a point to search for that distinct roll.

It’s true, as you might have heard: toilet paper in France tends to be pink, often adorned with floral motifs. As a traveler, I appreciate these cultural quirks, even though I find them somewhat ridiculous.

Returning to Daniel and his peculiar choice of toilet paper, it’s worth noting that while we share an apartment in this mountain town in eastern France, we don’t actually live together. Our unique set-up involves trusting each other with a set of keys and exchanging a second set when needed. When Daniel embarks on extended work trips to Canada or Lebanon, I reside in his apartment, engaging in my French office job. When he occasionally returns, I retreat to Italy and work remotely from the comfort of my living room in Milan. It’s a modern arrangement that works surprisingly well.

Unsurprisingly, our first meeting was online through a platform called LeBonCoin, a French version of Craigslist. After dozens of email exchanges regarding dates and mailbox keys, we finally met face-to-face. Over a beer, we shared life stories and mutually established trust.

However, despite our camaraderie, it became evident that we held different sentiments about toilet paper.

The Curse of Pink Toilet Paper

This is the first time I’m addressing the topic of living in France, and contrary to what you might expect, I won’t be regaling you with tales of devouring éclairs or marveling at the stunning view of the Alps from my window. Instead, I’ll confess my absolute disdain for the toilet paper in this country.

A view of the Alps from Grenoble, France. ©KettiWilhelm2019

Allow me to explain my initial reasoning behind this irrational animosity: my practical mother instilled in me the notion of never purchasing scented pads or tampons. It made sense from a logical standpoint – who would want cheap perfume near their delicate body parts? Upon arriving in France, I extended the same logic to the pink dye found in countless rolls of French toilet paper.

However, this sentiment went beyond mere practicality. The pink hue struck me as bizarre, unnecessary, and frankly, pointless. Dressing up something as mundane as toilet paper seemed excessively prim and proper.

(Related: Want to uncover even more surprising discoveries while living with locals in foreign countries? Explore these alternatives to Airbnb and Couchsurfing, which include fantastic new options for finding homestays with locals. And don’t miss out on some of my favorite Couchsurfing stories.)

Pink chocolate pigs in a shop window in Montpellier, France. This is better than a picture of pink French toilet paper, right? ©KettiWilhelm2019

To put it bluntly, I deemed it utterly nonsensical simply because it was different and foreign. However, it was during this toilet paper turmoil that I had an eye-opening revelation. I realized that throughout my life, I had been using scented soaps and body washes on those very delicate body parts. Funny enough, this revelation occurred due to another European peculiarity: Italian “intimate wash.”

Upon moving to Italy and cohabiting with my boyfriend (before he became my husband), I discovered his special “intimate” soap in the shower. Puzzled, I inquired about its purpose. That’s when he gave me a look as if he had just realized I might be a tad disgusting.

“What do you use?” he asked.

And there it was – an unimpressive, artificially scented, non-pH balanced bar of soap. It struck me that such a choice was considered ordinary in my homeland. Perhaps I was no less ridiculous in my judgment of pink toilet paper in France.

Old houses with roofs at off angles in Annecy, France, houses in which people probably use pink French toilet paper. ©KettiWilhelm2018
When you visit France, sit on the dock in the town of Annecy and watch a pink and blue sunset like this one, and contemplate why all the flowery, pink French toilet paper has a matching motif. ©KettiWilhelm2019
Clean, tree-lined canals in Annecy, France. ©KettiWilhelm2018

Reflections on Cultural Differences

When I pondered my vehement stance on toilet paper, two key realizations struck me.

Firstly, I acknowledged that I might have been exaggerating the importance of this seemingly insignificant matter. However, even with this awareness, my automatic reaction remained unchanged. It dawned on me that when we travel, if we can move beyond initial repulsion or judgment, we open ourselves up to observing and learning from the diverse ways people live around the world. Such experiences serve as a refreshing lens through which we can view ourselves, our language, and our habits.

Secondly, I came to appreciate that amidst the veneer of globalization, these nuanced cultural details remain truly local. Booking flights or renting apartments anywhere may seem simple nowadays, but as we zoom in, we discover how truly diverse and distinct places are. Not everything is as straightforward as it appears online.

While food often takes center stage as a topic of discussion when it comes to showcasing cultural richness and uniqueness (despite the ever-pervasive influence of globalization – hello Starbucks in Milan), it’s the smaller, less significant aspects that keep me connected to my roots and attuned to my foreign surroundings. Even the pink toilet paper in France holds its own charm.

(If you’re eager to delve further into French culture, I highly recommend a book called “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.” It serves as an engaging guide to French history, culture, and society, and will likely resonate with your personal experiences in France. You can find it on Amazon or order it on Bookshop.)

Villard Reymond, France. ©KettiWilhelm2019
Villard Reymond, France. ©KettiWilhelm2019
Villard Reymond, France. ©KettiWilhelm2019

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