I still remember those early days when I just moved to China. I lived in Yangshuo, a touristy little town in Guangxi province. There was luckily a decent expat community, so I still had Western conversations and didn’t have to speak Chinese.
But, soon I started to see that to be totally immersed in China was quite difficult. There were no Western products and I was surprised when I went from supermarket to local grocery shop to beauty shop to finally understand that Chinese don’t use deodorant. I was quite shocked as in the West, men and women use deodorant from when they are a teenager. I couldn’t understand and didn’t believe it at first.
Another most awkward and frustrating moment was to realize that Chinese women don’t use tampons. No way that I would go back to grandma’s sanitary pads!
So, I remember that I emailed my mother in exasperation to quickly send me deodorant and tampons (and while sending those anyway, some Belgian chocolate to comfort me. For us Belgians this is as much a basic need as these other two).
Flash forward 9 years later and married to a Chinese for almost 3 years now. He doesn’t understand the deodorant thing and another Western thing: shaving armpits and legs.
Last week, was the first time my husband ever used deodorant as he sees me doing it every day and doesn’t understand why. So, he finally had the courage to try it himself.
The other thing we even had some big discussions about was why I had to shave my armpits and legs. I told him that I feel like a man if I don’t and I want to feel like a woman. I don’t care that much about clothes or shoes, but there is no way I am going to let my hair grow in these places.
In the beginning of our relationship, we went trekking for at least 6 days by tent. We couldn’t shower during those 6 days and I felt an immense relief when I could finally shower, but the best part was, to be able to remove the hair from my legs. I felt civilized and clean again.
It’s interesting to see the differences in cultures and it doesn’t have to be the big things. It’s those little everyday things that make it interesting. I would never stop to think about using deodorant or shaving legs in the West and nobody would mention it as it is such a normal thing to do. But in China you see that it is not so common and that other people see it as something weird to do.
I can’t wait to take my husband back to Europe and see what he thinks of it. Now, he just went for 2 weeks on holiday, but that is not the same as living there and starting to miss those everyday little habits that you do! Although, I already got him hooked on drinking a cup of coffee every morning. He is slowly getting there.