“The metro was really crowded this morning,” said my student just before our class started one afternoon. “There was a tall guy holding onto the handrail next to me and he smelt REALLY bad. I was so close to him and the smell was disgusting”.
She then theatrically bit down on her bottom lip, raised her eyebrows and paused for a few seconds.Then she added, “and he was definitely not Brazilian!”
“Oh!” remarked the student sat beside her, looking suitably curious. “Where do you think he was from?”
With a look of mock revulsion etched onto her face this student then looked slowly from her colleagues face to mine then back to her colleague’s again. She was relishing in this moment and like an award winning actress, took her time to answer the question.
“I am sure he was….French!”
To my surprise the other student didn’t say anything. It was as if she didn’t need to. She simply responded with a knowing look and a sympathetic nod of her head.
After a few seconds of silence I felt compelled to ask what I‘d missed. “But why is his nationality important?”
“He is French Andrew” repeated this student, as if I’d asked something so obvious she simply needed to repeat herself. “Everyone knows French people smell bad!”
“Yes, it’s true Andrew, French people really do smell bad!” confirmed the other student.
I laughed in surprise when I realised these two were being sincere. I mean, how could two educated women be talking about everyone from France like this? And this isn’t just any country, it is my motherland’s closest neighbor. I thought I’d heard all the jokes I could about the French because historically the Brits and the French have been rivals for hundreds of years, yet until this moment I’d never heard of any mocking directed towards their hygiene.
“You must know French people use so much strong perfume to disguise the smell of their body odour?” Again, this was presented to me like it was a well known fact rather than a ridiculous rumour.
My first instinct was to think that this must be one of those random misconceptions Brazilians have of other nationalities. I’ve already written about the way many here refuse to believe British people don’t drink cups of tea at 5pm, and more recently I’ve become aware of what Brazilians refer to as a Greek kiss, a ‘Beijo grego’ and a Spanish, the ‘Espanhola’ (I would explain these here, but my family read this blog! Let’s just say Brazilians have given European names to sexual acts and are able to justify these names when asked!), so I assumed this was something else Brazilians had simply misunderstood about the culture of other countries!
When I was in France the unpleasant smell of a French person never once troubled my delicate British nostrils. But I discovered that for some my European nationality almost discredits my opinion.
“Andrew” smirked my friend Carlos when I asked him why Brazilians thought the French smelt bad. “I imagine you don’t know many about this because you are from England. Everybody knows England people never like to shower, same as all countries in Eurpoe. So maybe you don’t notice this really bad smell because England people smell REALLY bad too!”
I’d love to dismiss Carlos’ words as just him being a shit disturber, however I’ve been asked if Brits shower daily enough times now to know many Brazilians share a similar opinion to his.
For me a shower in the morning is not just something I do for cleanliness, but is also something I need to wake me up in a morning. My affirmative answer to the question of showering every day is usually met with distrust too….as if I’m hiding some hideously smelly lie from Brazilians to protect the reputation of my country! But this really isn’t the case, we shower!
Time to Reflect
Being a foreigner living in a different country can prove to be an interesting experience, particularly when you’re made to question aspects of your own culture through the filter of the new culture you’re adopting. I’ll be the first to admit that I now recognise Brits say “sorry” excessively, we are generally awkward around each other in those first few moments of meeting socially and we eat a hell of a lot of potatoes. But one thing we are NOT is a nation of smelly bastards! Sure, as in all countries, there are those in the UK who need nothing more than a good shower and some clean clothes. But everyone I know from back home showers daily and sprays their pits with a decent amount of deodorant before leaving the house!
But this blog post isn’t really about the Brits; it is about the French.It would appear for many Brazilians these guys are the poster kids for bad hygiene in Europe because of their strong perfumes and apparent reluctance to shower. Interestingly I have met quite a few Brazilians who are adamant that they’ve met French people who absolutely stank…like no other nation on the planet.
I never thought I’d say this, but Brazilians….please leave the French alone!
So where do Brazilians get off talking about other nation’s hygiene?
Well, Brazil might be a country famous for its sun, sea and samba, but you could also add another ‘s’ word in there (no, not that one!), one an outsider might not be aware of…showers. According to a recent article published by the Economist “The average resident of the city of São Paulo still consumes roughly 200 litres of water a day, well above the 150 litres in much of Europe”. Why? Well Brazilians are incredibly clean people and may think nothing to showering at least twice a day.
But In a cruel twist of fate São Paulo has been hit by its worst drought in over 80 years and things are not looking good for the city. Authorities recently announced that São Paulo could soon have a system whereby water will only be available 2 days out of 7. On top of the obvious reasons why this would cause chaos for the city, it is also going to prove one hell of a challenge for the fiercely clean Brazilians who obviously wouldn’t be able to shower nearly as often as they’d like to.
It looks like things here are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
Or perhaps I should word it like this, people here are going to have to learn to be a lot more ‘French’ than they’d ever imagined!