blogitto ergo sum

April 8, 2011

#177 – how soft is your standard of living?

how often do I find myself musing over our standard of living and quality of life?  at minimum, every time i land in a European airport and use the restroom.  seriously.

this, i suspect, demands an explanation.  patience please.

I know you are familiar with all those measures and indexes and charts, representations of how great, expensive, high quality, environment-friendly life is in one country vs. another.  The latest trend is to add a happiness index to the mix.  hello GNH-Gross National Happiness index, please join the GDP, HDI [Human Development Index], Environmental Performance Index (EPI) mix.   researching for this post, i found yet another index; the Global Happy Planet Index [Global HPI].  This index claim to fame is combining environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which people live long and happily ever after. the world Global HPI map can be found HERE.

all these are very important, scientific,  statistic, holistic… BUT, does any of  these indexes really help you understand, get a good sense of life in a different country?

one well-known index, more tangible than most, is the Economist Big Mac Index.  in case you never heard of it [no disrespect intended], it’s an index based on comparing the purchasing power of different currencies, against an identical  product available in these countries. the Big Mac Index [popular yet unhealthy], claims the Economist, “is arguably the world’s most accurate financial indicator to be based on a fast-food item.”  the greater the purchasing power of a currency compared to its official exchange rate the lower the price of big fat mac in that country, which means that the currency is undervalued.  In case you wonder, big fat mac is offered in about 120 countries.

Big Mac Index, Oct 14th 2010. Source:

The latest published index, dated October 2010, shows that 14.50 yuan can buy as much burger as US$3.71.  therefore, a yuan should be worth $0.26 on the foreign-exchange market. the fact that it costs just $0.15, suggesting that it is undervalued by about 40% [as of October ’10].  so for the best bargain on a Big Mac, go to Beijing or Shenzhen.  one needs to keep on mind however, that the burger exchange rate does not guarantee an identical exchange rate when buying a car for example, or a fridge.  so while the Mac-Yuan may be undervalued, the dishwasher-Yuan + washer & dryer are more expensive and far from being standard in every Chinese apartment.  interestingly enough though, walking around Shanghai, it seems that there is a need for a KFC index.

impatient?  getting there.  MY index is a different one.  it’s about comfort, softness, fluffiness…  it’s about the standard of living as demonstrated in that little room that even kings visit alone.

Even the king visits alone

this is no laughing matter.  in a world that offers the frontal fissures of our bodies paper tissues enriched with aloe and vaseline, don’t you think that similar sensitivity should be applied to all fissures, regardless of location? this may be the real test of how high is the standard of living for the lower parts.

a country that is so well tuned to its derriere’s well-being is indeed a country with a high standard of living.  sadly, the longer i live in the US, the greater the disappointment upon contact I experience elsewhere. Frankfurt is a harsh place this way.

different countries – different  expectations. it’s the initial “encounter” upon arrival to any European city that triggered my development of this well-being index.  one would expect that the “old world” would know a thing or two about comfort and pampering.  but it is the Japanese that turned spoiling the derriere to an art form and product lines.

in the late 80’s, working with American students @ Tel Aviv University’s Overseas Student Program, many of the [female] students included toilet paper in their “mom, please send me…” lists. a couple of years later, having an American friend’s daughter attending the program, i schlepped soft rolls for mommy’s little girl.  at that point my expectation and standards were still very Israeli.

Zionizm in the little room?

a couple of years later [2001], living in Arlington, Mass, i found out how my standard of living changed…  Na’ama, visiting from Israel, was enjoying the American fluffiness too much, beyond the capacity of the old house plumbing system. a couple of hours of concentrated efforts mattered not.  the following morning we ended up in a cafe that accommodate our nature needs, while my landlady dealt with the plumber. today, I found the chapter that told the story.  unfortunately, at that point in time i was writing in Hebrew.  regardless, Chapter 62 will get posted soon.  the picture below demonstrates how hard Na’ama tried to avoid talking to the landlady.

it wasn’t until i arrived in china when i experienced real sandpaper.  in China of 1999, you were lucky if you found ANY toilet paper in a public “site”.  actually all travel guides/books advised you to bring your own TP with you.  when the rolls i brought with me run out, the well-starred  hotels we stayed in provided.  it wasn’t until i visited the a Chinese home that i was exposed to the

Soft is not

sandpaper squares.  not rolls, but rather squares that looked and felt like sandpaper sheets, though pinkish.  from my point of view, such paper used in a family that owned a car and an apartment in a new complex in a Shaghai’s suburbs,  demonstrated the expected and accepted standard of living of the well to do.   needles to say, China’s standard of living improved a lot since then.  TP included.

sadly, the fluffy standard comes with a serious cost.  softer toilet paper uses much more pulp, less or no recycled paper.  the softer the paper, the more trees it took to manufacture it.  “what’s the big deal” you may say.  well, people in the US love it soft.  and it’s not limited to “Killing [Me Softly].”

4 years later, Sheryl Crow is still mocked now and then for her April 2007 proposal. “…I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don’t want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.” [ &  multiple other newspapers and blogs]

softness becomes her? Source:

so a higher standard of living as measured by the TPS [Toilet Paper Softness] index, will negatively impact a country’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) mix and its Global Happy Planet Index [Global HPI] rating.

the question is, which part of your body calls the shots?  your head or…
visit A Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products for environmental education on the topic.

intrigued by the World’s happiness research?  visit the World Database of Happiness.

more on toilet paper and the cost of fluffy:
The Toilet Paper Encyclopedia

Clipart sources:


  1. When I worked at Hitachi Data Systems, I often wondered if our visiting Japanese colleagues pitied us for and dreaded using our primitive-by-comparison restroom facilities. And after being spoiled by California’s paper toilet-seat covers in almost every public restroom, it irks me when I visit other parts of the country where they’re not standard public restroom fare.

    Comment by Lisa Pampuch — April 15, 2011 @ 08:00 | Reply

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