I’ve used up enough tissue paper to cover all NCAA tournament basketball courts this season, due to my allergies responding to super-elevated levels of pollen. It just struck me that different cultures deal so differently with blowing one’s nose.

In some Asian countries, locals thinknothing of blowing their nose directly into their fingers and expelling the discharge with a snap-flick of the fingers, to the disgust of a Westerner witness. Of course, the Westerner who blows his nose into a tissue paper or a hanky in public in Tokyo would inspire revulsion in the Japanese. It’s considered uncouth, something to be done only in private. (Which strikes me as funny, since in Tokyo, there are folks who hand out packets of tissue to passers-by as advertisements, (more utilitarian than mere flyers.) And lots of Japanese people carry hankerchiefs or washcloths with them, although apparently only to be used in dabbing the sweat off one’s brow.

For a while, I used to carry a handkerchief in my pocket, so I could blow my nose throughout the day, and then throw it into the laundry hamper, thinking that a handkerchief could be washed and reused, but not tissue paper. A native Californian friend of mine thought it was ‘gross’. “How can you walk around with a mucus-laden hanky in your pocket?” He was rather young, and thus unaware that before Kleenex had been invented, people blew their noses in handkerchiefs. And they still do out of habit. My uncle’s handkerchiefs are getting threadbare and hole-y through years of daily use, to the distress of his wife, who looks forward to a trip to China, in part to restock on handkerchiefs. “I can’t find handkerchiefs for sale in California.”


2 thoughts on “Atchoo!

  1. The Japanese use and hand out the tiny tissue packets because many public restrooms in Japan do not have toilet paper…I remember my aunt snagging multiple packets and then later coming to our rescue.

    Also, I can’t imagine any house these days with little ones surviving without tissue paper or paper towels.

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