Leaving Russia really felt like I was leaving Europe behind, and with it, European customs.
Habits and customs vary according to culture, and of course, what may seem disgusting to one culture, seems normal to another.
Never have I felt this more than the last few weeks. It is impolite, for example, to blow your nose into a tissue in public and especially so before you have a meal. It is perfectly acceptable however to snort and “snot-rocket” (hold one nostril while you blow snot out of the other with force) into the sink or bucket provided. In a moment of acute Englishness, I found instead I would sneak out of the room to blow my nose discreetly, before returning to the table, rather than join in the snorting and spluttering in the corner of the room.
It is also completely acceptable to spit. Everywhere. At all times. On pavements. Out of bus or car windows (or sometimes onto them). Onto the floor. Or, if you prefer, as Ardack did, you can lift up the edge of the lino and hurl the lump of offending snot underneath it. I’m pretty sure his lino floor is now mostly secured in place by his own phlegm, fused over the years into a gross kind of cement.
And not just a discreet bit of dribble quickly dropped from your lips. Oh no. This is full on. Hawking back all the snot and phlegm inside, as loudly as you can, ensuring not a tiny morsel is left inside and then flung, with force, at the floor.
Matchsticks are also pretty useful. Not just as a toothpick, though the wooden end does come in handy for that, but also, to clean out your ears. The red head can be used more than once. Scrape out the earwax, wipe it onto the side of your hand, and repeat as many times as is needed. The wax ends up in neat little orange lines on the edge of your hand. Sometimes it is washed off.
Of course, not all Mongolian habits are disgusting to my westernised mind, in fact, quite the opposite. The culture of hospitality and drinking chai together is amazing. And even the habits that are strange to my mind, in many ways they make sense. Getting ill is not something most can afford to do, and it is important to get these things out of our body. In fact it is probably a lot healthier than the over polite Englishness in me. And they probably cannot understand why I would waste my money on tissue paper to blow my nose into, when the floor, or under it, does the job just fine.