Tissue Issues

07 Jan 2003
tissue-san

One thing that tends to become an issue no matter what the duration of your stay in China is tissues (and various other paper product variations). Sure, in the U.S. we have a wide assortment of sanitary, disposable paper products, each created for its own particular uses. China kind of does its own thing. It goes something like this:

paperproducts

U.S.A.

1. Tissues: Used mainly to blow your nose, possibly to wipe blood or something from your skin.
2. Toilet paper: Used to wipe your bum after you use the toilet. Also used as a tissue in a pinch.
3. Paper napkin: Used to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating.
4. Paper towels: Used to wipe up household spills, or sometimes for cleaning. Used as a paper napkin in a pinch.

China

1. Tissues: Used to blow your nose, to wipe blood or something from your skin, to wipe your bum after you use a public toilet, to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating at home, to wipe up household spills, or sometimes for cleaning.
2. Toilet paper: Used to wipe your bum after you use the toilet in a private residence. Not provided in most public restrooms. Also used as napkins in low-budget restaurants everywhere.
3. Paper napkin: Available only in certain restaurants (especially McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut); used to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating.
4. Paper towels: Pretty much unknown in China. There is a tissue-like version that comes in individual sheets instead of a roll. This is used much like paper towels are in the U.S.

Foreigners who visit China (especially females) quickly learn to carry little packs of tissues wherever they go. You need these if you want to use a public restroom, and they come in handy when eating, because paper napkins (even toilet paper) are not always readily dispensed to customers. Another difference is that public restrooms in China often have no mirror. Public restrooms in China often serve only their one very primitive function, and they do that at only the bare minimum of functionality.

And then sometimes your own toilet even sucks, but it’s best if I stay off that topic….

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

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