Are we Indians the only ones who ‘smell’?

When it comes to bad body odor, us Indians are often the subject of much stereotyping around the world. That stereotype has its reasons. In places like Singapore, the snarly stereotype made by the majority Chinese are that Indians “stink”. Of course, having been to Singapore and taken the trains, I can see why the non-Indians say that. Many labourers that work in Singapore’s construction industry are South Asian, and their cheapest mode of public transportation is either the bus or train (MRT) — both packed with people during rush hours. This means sweaty people all around. But given the nature of their work (and how little they earn to spend), it’s no wonder why many commuters don’t like standing next to the construction workers.

Labourers drunk on Singapore's MRT (Photo credit: STOMP)
Labourers drunk on Singapore’s MRT (Photo credit: STOMP)

Indians in general do give off a “smell”. That smell can be attributed to our diet and the way our body has been engineered. We’re a hairy race, let’s not beat around the bush. Ugh. We also eat food that is quite fragrant — to us. To everyone else who isn’t familiar with our tastes, it “stinks”. Just like how I find the smell of fish sauce off-putting. Indians would label that smell as a stench, but that’s not how the Thais see it (or smell it). They are used to it.

The solution to most bad body odor problems is to take a nice warm bath, sure, and to put some nice fragrance afterwards. But this simple concept is lost on some people, and some people like construction workers just can’t afford to do the same daily.

But it’s not just some Indians. I remember the torture I had to endure sitting next to a stinking Frenchman in bus going from Bangkok to Phuket in 2012. Thailand being a popular backpacker destination, it’s not uncommon to come across scruffy and not-so-well maintained foreigners. This French guy was the epitome of such characteristics. Wearing simply a worn-out vest and shorts, he hadn’t shaved and obviously hadn’t taken a bath before this bus ride. His feet in particular stank! I had the misfortune of getting a seat beside him, while my friend only got a seat behind me. I asked the French guy if he would like to trade seats with my friend, to which he replied with a firm “no!”. I didn’t prod any further.

I kid you not, when he lifted his arm, I could sense heat emanating from his armpits! It’s as if his sweaty vapour was making it’s way to my miserable face. So what’s a guy in my place to do? I had a window seat, and I tried my best to cover my nose and stick my face as close to the window as possible. I couldn’t open the window as this was a double decker bus with locked windows, so the best I could manage was to try and inhale as much fresh air from outside that was making its way through the gaps. I had A/C vents above me and I turned them my way to offer me some relief.

Bus view Bangkok
The view wasn’t great, but I couldn’t help but face this way!

Seeing all this, the French stinker got the message. Did he get up? No. But he did move slightly away from me. For which all I could say was “merci beaucoup”.

I still didn’t get any sleep throughout the journey though.

Then there were the few occasions at office, when a colleague, usually a techie with zero interest in body care stands right beside me and plants his arms around the top of my chair while talking. As if it wasn’t bad enough you could see the sweat stains under his armpits, you could also smell tell the guy had never ever considered putting some deodorant on. Eventually, one day I couldn’t take it anymore and I would playfully sniff and act alarmed by his “smell”. He would laugh and get the message. This was in my opinion, a better way to get the message across than wear a clip on my nose while he spoke. That would have been a lot more embarrassing for him.

But seriously, to the stinkers out there — particularly the men — use a decent soap and wash yourself thoroughly when taking a bath. Put some perfume or deodorant on if you can as well. India is a hot country, I know, but it doesn’t cost much to do all this — but it does make a good impression if you do.

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51 Comments

  • Sassiella

    06/09/2016

    Finger pointing will not solve any problems. It is stupid to take a discussion about how Indians smell, and start bashing the body odors of white people or Africans, or even the inhumanly stinky breath of people from China.

    Are there white people who stink? Sure, especially some from France, but they are not the majority of white people. Are there Africans who stink? Sure, especially some from Nigeria, but once again they are not a majority.

    On the other hand, there is worldwide agreement from many races, not just whites or blacks or whoever, that the majority of Indians smells bad, so it has to have some grounding in reality. Don’t ignore it or make excuses.

    Reading through the responses, it seems the problem is a combination of certain spices in food, along with a lack of proper hygiene, including using soap while bathing or showering, and putting on deodorant afterward.

    The only solution is a public relations campaign across India, and Indian communities in other countries, emphasizing proper hygiene and the use of deodorant (not cologne and perfume) to eliminate this bad problem.

    [Reply]

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