Smelly armpits and non-stick envelopes


Because Beijing is a huge modern city it is easy to start thinking that living here is the same as in a big city anywhere in the world, but of course it is not. This is China after all, and it’s the little idiosyncrasies of life here that make you aware how different countries can be whilst appearing superficially similar.

For example, it is very difficult to buy deodorant/antiperspirant in China.    Yesterday I combed not one but two supermarkets without success. At the huge Carrefour near our apartment block I kept being directed to air and room fresheners every time I asked for it, (the Chinese word is chuchouji just in case you ever need to know), and the staff and other shoppers looked at me as though I were a lunatic when in desperation I lifted my arm up and mimed spraying deodorant on whilst making a ‘psst, pssst’ sound.

A friend has now told me that branches of a western-style pharmacy chain do stock it, so at some point I’ll have to make a special trip to the nearest branch which is over in Sanlitun.

In Europe and America most people use deodorants as part of their normal bathroom routine, same as we use toothpaste or shampoo. We don’t use it because we have BO; we use it to prevent BO. This seems to be quite an alien concept to the Chinese. I’ve been told by several Chinese that BO is the sign of a health problem, and that under-arm odour indicates disease. To buy a deodorant is therefore admitting you have something wrong with you, which is shaming, as if you have a disease you should consult a doctor.  They use perfumes to cover up any body odours….hmm, isn’t that what people in Europe did back in the dark ages?  Come on Unilever, Proctor & Gamble and all you other deodorant manufacturers, there are over a billion people here, and this seems a major marketing opportunity!

Another little quirk I have discovered is that most envelopes don’t stick down. That is to say there is no gum on them, neither self-sticking type nor the kind you lick-and-stick.  You have to use one of those little glue sticks when you want to seal an envelope. I’ve just written some birthday cards for friends back in the UK, and each time I automatically licked the flap before remembering it wouldn’t stick down, so had to wave it about to dry off before I could apply my glue.

The same used to be true of stamps here, but now they at least do come with adhesive.

About herschelian

Recently moved to Beijing from London - its all new to me! Trying to learn Chinese, and what makes this city tick.
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3 Responses to Smelly armpits and non-stick envelopes

  1. Sheila Taylor says:

    wish I could’ve seen your miming of spraying on deoderant!!

  2. Helen says:

    That’s very interesting about the use (or rather, lack of use) of deodorant in China. I recently read an article that discusses how some folks in the US are choosing not to use deo or even shower daily, maintaining that its maybe better for the body, and that we’ve been more-or-less brainwashed into using it when maybe its not necessary. I’m interested to know if you notice any unpleasant body odour amongst the population? Do they have smelly armpits?!
    If the millions of Chinese aren’t using deodorant without nasty consequences maybe the article’s argument has some validity. I’m not about to change my habits, but it is something to think about.
    here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/fashion/31Unwashed.html?_r=2&hpw

    • herschelian says:

      Sheila -as you know, I’ve never worried about making an idiot of myself!
      Helen, thanks for the thought-provoking comment, and the link. Well, yes, if I’m honest I have found myself in places with many locals where it has been a bit of an olfactory challenge to say the least! – but more irritating is the smell of very overwhelming synthetic perfumes that both men and women have sprayed on to try to cover BO! Since way back – at least 14thC – people have been trying to mask the various body odours, and now we have the means to control them. A little honest sweat is one thing, but stale sweat on top of stale sweat day after day is decidedly unpleasant – in my judgement!
      BTW I really love your blog, the walking the Silvermine post brought back wonderful memories for me!

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