Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Toilet Paper on the Office Desk

It may look tacky, but it gets the job done
When I first came to China, one thing that struck me as odd is that you would see a roll of toilet paper sitting on someone’s desk in an office.  Not only office desks, but in restaurants, you would see one of these babies on the table. 

 Over time, the restaurants started incorporating plastic covers for them, but back in the small towns, off the beaten paths, you can still see the naked roll proudly displayed.

Not too long ago,  my house ran dry of toilet paper and I went to the convenience store inside of my apartment complex to buyer a new pack.  The lady behind the counter commented loudly “You sure go through a lot of this!”.  I felt a bit awkward.  I mean… how much toilet paper a family runs through in a week or bi-weekly period is something I normally keep discreet and don’t comment loudly about in public.  Wouldn’t that then lead to questions on my digestive system?

But you see, in China, toilet paper is not toilet paper.  It’s just paper or “tissue”.  For example, the way in the States, we’ll have a Kleenex box or other off-brand facial tissue box sitting out, the Chinese do the same with toilet paper.  Also in homes, the Chinese don’t use paper napkins or paper towels.  If they use any sort of paper wipe (for non-bathroom purposes), it would be what in the States is referred to as toilet paper. 

For the bathroom, private situations, most Chinese use another style of hygienic paper that comes in stacks, not a roll.  I can remember, a few years back,  I’d bought a stack of that, unaware of it’s main purpose.  This was at a time when we were moving office and locations so we were sharing a house with some of our colleagues.  I’d bought the paper and put it in the kitchen, you know, as sort of a paper, all-purpose towel.  I can recall my colleagues having weird looks on their faces when I brought in and set in the kitchen what they considered to be a private-issue deal.

It’s funny in an interesting sort of way when you consider how the same product has different usage in different nations and different cultures.   Here are some more examples:

Sunglasses:  You are seeing these more but still not a whole lot in China.  When I first arrived here, if I was wearing a pair of shades, folks would come up to me and tell me how cool I looked.  Unless you are a taxi driver, sunglasses are more of a fashion statement for coolness than for eye protectors against the sun’s rays and glare.

Caps or Hats:  Where I’m from, many guys wear caps or as we call them “baseball caps”.  Whether it has your favorite sports team, some form of promotional advertisement or just for colors, guys sport a cap.  In China this is almost non-existent.  Caps or any form of hat are mainly for grandpa to keep his head warm when he is outside.  And whatever you do, don’t ever wear a green cap.

Here is the storefront where we discuss the amount
of "tp" my household and I breeze through.
Fries and Ketchup:  It’s almost like watching a National Geographic special to see different habits inside of an ordinary place; a McDonald’s for example.  Typically you are only issued two ketchup packs (help-yourself bars are seldom found in China).  The Chinese customer will squirt ketchup from the packet on each individual fry before consumption.  Or, they will open the packet and dip the fry inside of the ketchup…..not bad or strange…just different.

Red Wine:  Having a party?  Add 7-up or Sprite, whatever your taste may be along with some ice cubes to the red wine.  I think this was done in China because the local brands of red wine are hard to take.  And when I say hard to take, I mean very awful.  I also prefer the local wine with Sprite or 7-up.

Products have a way to adapt to the culture in which they are found.  I’m sure there are various uses for these products and more in different cultures, different places or even among the same culture in the same place.  What different ways have you seen products used in your travels or at home?

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  1. 7up and wine? Sounds like the red wine was pretty bad to sweeten it like that. Funny how people adapt and use products differently across the world.

    I love the TP story, in the Middle East it is similar except it's kleenex, everyone uses kleenex for everything from TP to napkins.

    Thanks for these insights Jacob, have a great wekeend :)

  2. Another way for good insight is by going to the grocery store in a country and watching how the locals shop. Can remember one of my earlier years in China, at a Wal-Mart, all the people were walking by my shopping cart to see what the "foreigner" was buying.

    Always good to see you here, John, thanks for stopping by. Good weekend to you and the fam.

  3. Hi Jacob, it is so interesting to see what a huge impact culture has on our everyday lives. This story is fascinating and I'm sure you are enjoying the experience of living abroad. Thanks for sharing this - great stuff!

  4. Ms. lleane, you are amazing...running that humungous blog of your own, offering those great tips, help....and still got time to visit! Thanks much for stopping by. Yes, very blessed to be living abroad and seeing a culture so different than my own. Really opens the capillaries You've got a contact in China now and hope to see more of you....will stop by your house (blog) too.

  5. I loved every one of these stories Jacob!

    Thank you for not only educating us, but for bringing us along on your journey!

    Paul Castain

  6. For a Chinese company that has Paul Castain PDF books hanging around the office (literally posted on the whiteboard)....it made my day to see you stop by the JLmade house, Paul. The team asks where I get all the sales knowledge, I tell them them of the mystical, "Paul 叔叔" (Uncle Paul) from a far away land.