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Hanky Panky, Social Norms and Brainwashing by Marketing

As I wiped my hands on my handkerchief after I stepped out of the restroom, my friend's teenage daughter turned to me and said, "that right there is a major turnoff for women, if you ever plan to date women, don't ever use it". Startled and a little puzzled, I asked her why she would say such a thing about an object of hygiene. She said, "Have you heard of Kleenex?" And what if I don't have one handy when I have to wipe my hands or face or worse, have to sneeze or blow my nose? "Use your hands and wash them later", she replied without hesitation, and added, the only person she knew who uses that (referring to my guilty hanky) is her grandma!

Her reply was eye-opening - she was hinting at social cluelessness defined by a generation gap, but it also gave me the missing clue to a similar comment on TechCrunch last week by someone who said he blows his nose into his elbow joint! (Remember that ladies, the next time someone holds his elbow out for you to grab it while he leads you around the room.)

This left me pondering American attitudes in particular and National, Cultural, Ethnic, Economic & Social attitudes in general. I grew up in India where it's considered educated and well-mannered to carry a hanky with you - even today. I have allergies and never know when I may start sneezing. I often find myself in the middle of a meeting or seminar, seated between people but far from a table - that may or may not have tissues (even if I did consider "changing my ways").

So I did a mini-research on use of the handkerchief and found a few interesting articles, including this one.

The issue here is not merely social etiquette or generation gap or best way to practice hygiene or how-to-not-turn-off-a-woman-you're-dating. It's that increasingly people are doing what social conditioning makes them to do, not what they have invested enough effort to find out to be true or conclude to be the right thing to do.

It's Marketing. Plain and simple.

Bombarded constantly by one of the most efficient marketing machines the world has ever known, an alarmingly large number of Americans have willingly surrendered their ability to think for themselves. It's peer pressure on a national scale - dictated by the media, advertising, and pop-culture. Surely this problem exists everywhere in the world to different degrees, but it's a left-handed tribute to American marketing genius that people here follow what they're told to eatdrinkweardo, say, and even feel or think (more on this in another post).

Coming back to hankies, they're the handy, clean, hygienic, comfortable, economical and environmentally friendly solution to a sneezing fit, obnoxious snot, a scary cough, or just about any temporary hygiene issue that shows up unexpectedly - as long as you have enough of them (at least one per day) and wash them regularly. But you already do that with your underwear, don't you? So buy some hankies and don't use paper tissues unless they're the only option available.

[Originally posted on my personal blog at muralikd.blogspot.com, July 04, 2009]

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