Toilet paper orientation

Hotel toilet paper folding is a common practice performed by hotels worldwide as a way of assuring guests that the bathroom has been cleaned. Elaborate folding is sometimes used to impress or delight guests with the management’s creativity and attention to detail.

The common fold normally involves creating a triangle or ‘V’ shape out of the first sheet or square on a toilet paper roll. Commonly, the two corners of the final sheet are tucked behind the paper symmetrically, forming a point at the end of the roll. More elaborate folding results in shapes like fans, sailboats, and even flowers.

Toilet paper folding (also known as ‘toilet paper origami’ or ‘toilegami’) has attracted the attention of observers within the hotel industry and beyond it, involving both sober discussion of the practice as a marketing move as well as wry commentary with various degrees of seriousness. The practice has been considered an emblematic example of a meme copied across the world from a hotel to another until the point that most of them now do it.

The practice is followed by hotels all over the world, according to Stephen Gill, a British photographer who published a book of pictures of folded hotel toilet paper from various nations. Psychologist and memeticist Susan Blackmore, who uses the example of hotel toilet paper folding to illustrate the use of memes, pointed out in the 2006 ‘Darwin Day Lecture’ before the British Humanist Association that even a remote guesthouse she visited in rural Assam in India folded the first sheet on its rolls of toilet paper.

Hotel toilet paper folding is such an institution that in the horror movie ‘1408’ it is used as one of the eerie happenings noticed by the main character—after using the toilet paper, he finds it mysteriously has been freshly folded over.

The practice is meant to assure customers that their hotel room has been cleaned, according to David Feldman, in his ‘Imponderables’ syndicated newspaper column. Feldman reported that he had contacted many of the country’s largest innkeeper chains to ask why the toilet paper was folded, and all of them provided the same answer. He quoted James P. McCauley, executive director of the International Association of Holiday Inns: ‘Hotels want to give their guests the confidence that the bathroom has been cleaned since the last guest has used the room. To accomplish this, the maid will fold over the last piece of toilet paper to assure that no one has used the toilet paper since the room was cleaned. It is subtle but effective.’

Gill believes the practice is meant to please or impress customers: ‘But the neatly made bed, the folded toilet paper—all these things symbolize attention and love. Perhaps such finishing touches are also an attempt to suggest flawlessness or excellence, and so distract you from whatever failings the room may have. They create a moment of stillness.’ Gill found differences in the style and care of folding between hotels. One example from Tokyo, ‘with its tiny pleats, really stands out,’ according to the photographer. ‘Only in Japan did I find such minute attention to detail. […] The New York City [example], on the other hand, is very poor quality, asymmetrical on rough, thin paper. And the Romania [example] is a great slab with a small, right-hand fold.’

According to one hotel industry website, ‘Housekeepers at luxe lairs around the world are neatly folding the loose end of a partially used roll of toilet paper into a neat little bow or fan.’ Some hotels provide more elaborate flourishes: some apply a sticker attaching the folded end to the roll; others wrap spare rolls with a ribbon; Thompson Hotels imprint their logo on the first square. The Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also imprints its name and logo on the ends of its toilet paper — a practice done by supervisors checking the work of the housekeepers.

As part of a $1 billion renovation of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach in 2006, the typical triangular fold practice was stopped as one of a number of changes in order to give customers an impression that the hotel was special. Other changes included setting policy in the way linen cocktail napkins would be folded and the shape of glass tumblers. ‘We’re not going to do the little pointy thing,’ rooms division chief Charlotte Rosenau told the ‘Miami Herald.’ ‘Every hotel does that.’ The change in toilet paper policy was made after Rosenau and several housekeepers crowded into a bathroom to experiment with different methods. They settled on ‘folding the first square in half, then resting the crease midway down the roll,’ according to the newspaper. ‘It just looks nice and clean,’ Rosenau explained.

In a humorous opinion article at the ‘Hotel Online’ website, Larry Mundy wrote in his ‘Room With a View’ column, perhaps partly with seriousness: ‘In my experience, there are two basic types of hotels: those that have the housekeeper fold a cute little triangle into the unused end of the toilet paper, and those that don’t. Call it silly, call it pointless, I call it a sure indicator of the service levels I can anticipate at the property.’ Mundy continued: ‘That tiny detail of carefully triangulated tissue tells me that someone cared, that another member of my own species was here, in this very room, within the past few hours and spared no effort to make the end of the roll both presentable and easier to grip in my time of need. I don’t need to engage in frustrating roll-rotation exercises just to find the loose end. I don’t need to contemplate the jagged tear-line from the last user’s haste — in fact, it doesn’t occur to me there was a ‘last user’ at all, because the roll looks neat and new.’

British comedian John Cleese, who played a hotelier in the television series ‘Fawlty Towers,’ has commented on the practice in a keynote address: ‘Why? What is it for? Is it proof that your house-maid has studied origami? … If you’re a Mason, are you supposed to fold it again into some sort of rhomboid?’

Author and blogger Merlin Mann notes: ‘Whenever there’s paper left on the roll, the hotel folds it into a tidy arrow. Just so you’ll know at least two people have touched it now.’

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