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Although I like to think of myself as in may ways invincible, I will now reveal to you the sad story of what happened to me this week. I got a rhinovirus. That’s right, a rhinovirus. I would have preferred any manner of hippovirus, (though not an armadillo virus because it turns out they carry leprosy-ick!), but one was not to be found. So I wasted much of my week lying around, sneezing, willing the propolys (bee product, a local immuno-booster) to work, blowing my nose and enjoying Margaret Cho and Vanessa Hidary videos on YouTube when I could be bothered to sit upright, and occasionally eating tasty “ethnic” (to me) meals with friends around the city, hoping some of that old fashioned curry and spice would make its way to my rhinovirus and knock its rhino ass out.

This brings me to the issue of nose blowing. It’s kind of vile, I mean, here you are, a person, collecting your bodily waste in a thin piece of paper and stuffing it back in your pocket. In Spanish it’s called “sonarse la nariz” (to “sound” your nose), which given the associated occasional honking, does seem appropriate. In Chile it’s considered rude to use a napkin from the table to blow your nose, but you are not necessarily expected to turn away or leave the room to do so. Maybe not in the states either, but I try to, because it just seems rude to be all honkey (and not that honkey, which, in my case is somewhat unavoidable) while everyone is trying to eat.

Sniffling is also verboten, and if you do sniffle, people will offer you a “pañuelo desechable” (tissue), which nearly everyone seems to have a pack of in their purse, pocket or backpack. But tissues, though a simple enough issue in the United States can be fraught with danger and challenge here in Chile.

For one thing, women routinely carry them to sub in for tp (confort), which is often not present in public bathrooms, or is hanging outside the stall, and woe is she who forgets to bring some in. But tissues are often scented/flavored (sometimes the aroma is so strong you feel you can taste it), with scents such as coconut and lime, vanilla, watermelon, lavender, and the one to watch out for (and be careful of), menthol. I suppose any of these might be nice to press to your face to catch an errant sneeze (to which no one will say “salud” (because it is not done here, though that is what you say if someone sneezes, at least in theory). However, I have it straight from the source, that some of these scented tissues are not to be used in case of toilet paper-lackage. Menthol, I’m looking at you.

Another curiosity about the tissues is the number of ply. If you buy tissues in a box or a smallish pack, they are two-ply. But the “purse” (or backpack) packs come in three-ply. And while that makes a softer, thicker (and perhaps, smellier) tissue, it also seems to remind people of poorer times, when they walked 10 km uphill to school both ways in an earthquake and tissues were not made so wastefully. So many people, upon purchasing a packet of tissues, will take one out and separate out the ply, turning one tissue into many (or at least two).

The most effective tissue-separating technique involves moistening the fingertips of the nondominant hand (pointer and thumb, or índice and pulgar), and patting them against the center portion of the tissue (the edges are embossed to prevent them from falling apart), that makes a ply each stick to one of the fingers, and then grabbing one of those ply with the dominant hand and pulling that ply apart. It is then used, or folded back into sixths and inserted back into the packet. Repeat as desired, to triple the number of tissues in your packet.

I have no word yet on whether people also separate the ply to use in the case of the missing TP. Anyone care to weigh in?