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.
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.