Last weeks flu brought to light some more cultural differences between our North American ways and the way things are done here. The main one that caught my attention was the act of blowing your nose. We consider it very appropriate to grab a tissue and blow your nose, even if other people are around. Here, however, that is the rudest possible thing to do, even if you have a cold. Instead of blowing your nose in a tissue it is considered more polite to: snort and spit, or to cover one nostril and do the good old farmer blow. Either of these polite alternatives can be done on the street, in the stairwell, or even in the school hallways (which is why you have to watch so closely where you are walking). Even tonight as I was walking home I saw a woman all dressed up fancy spitting on the sidewalk.
To local people the whole idea of using a Kleenex is gross. They can’t understand why we would want to wrap up our snot and often reuse the same piece of paper to blow again. They are equally offended by this action as you likely were with reading their practices. In my process of fitting in to this new life style I have found this adjustment very hard. I will admit to occasionally spitting when I am outside, but I can’t bring myself to do it in a building. I often excuse myself and go and blow my nose in another room away from my local friends.
Which is why when my tutor came to our house last week my roommate and I both were jumping up and heading to the washroom whenever we had to blow our noses. This got to be very distracting to class (since we were both so sick and every five minutes or so one of us would have to leave the room), we eventually just brought the whole roll of toilet paper into the living room and plunked it on the coffee table. Our tutor spends about ten hours a week at our house, and he has told us more than once that it feels like the most free/relaxed place for him. We figured if he can feel relaxed at our house then we should be able to too. And so for the first time in four and a half years I blew my nose in front of a Uyghur person.