One observation I have about Europe is how common it is for residents to have cloth napkins at their dinner tables. I don’t mean the thick, rich satin, fine-dining cloth napkins; I mean basic, all-cotton square cloths. Bedsheet material. Most households have holders for them on their tables, like a flat dish or tray, usually with a rock or hinged weight on top, for easy dispensing.
And you use your cloth all day, multiple meals. That’s why it’s important, and clever, to make your cloths out of a multitude of different prints and styles and mix them up, so your household members remember which is theirs throughout the day.
Then, when the day’s done, or when the cloth is so soiled it’s no longer useful, you toss it in the laundry and clean it to use again. Wash, hang, dry, repeat.
We stayed with a handful of people who made their own, and it’s a source of pride for some. They picked a random selection of cut-off fabric leftovers, took them home, ran a serge seam around the edge, and boom, no more paper napkins.
Me, I’m just a bachelor living alone, but lately I’ve had a change of heart about using fabric napkins. I carry a handkerchief of some sort in my backpack, and I can’t tell you how often it has come in handy (it’s a lot). So why not have some at home?
I think Europeans’ love for fabric napkins comes from necessity; many cities and nations have strict laws about landfill trash. Some places require residents to buy barcoded stickers for their bags. Others just don’t have large dumpsters or frequent service, and your options for throwing away lots of waste are limited and certainly not cheap. So you have to cut back, improvise, and be smart.
Several times on our trip we carried our trash with us as we checked out of the B&B. Being a group of 4, we generated a fair share of it. So in order to not be a financial burden on our B&B hosts (who would certainly pass the fee to us), we trucked our stuff out, and part of our transit to the next train was finding the nearest recycling receptacle. If we couldn’t dump our landfill trash somewhere nearby, we’d carry it to the station.
It’s small things like this that matter. If I’m only using paper napkins to wipe my mouth and hands while eating, do I really need a paper towel when a cloth would do?