Sep 262008

(asked by David L. from Miami)

Thanks Dave for asking this.
Actually, I was surprised that nobody had asked this question yet, especially after the shaving question. And if you think about asking the “losing wars” question, don’t worry, David is asking this one too and it’ll be the next entry.
This is what friends are for.

So, why don’t French people wear deodorant?
Truth is, that to my knowledge most French people do wear deodorant.
I won’t say that everybody does, that would be a lie, but most urban people do.
I know, if you’ve been to Paris at some point in your life and you’ve taken the metro, especially during rush hour, you must have had an unpleasant encounter -especially if you’re short- with a stinky armpit.
But chances are (and I don’t want to be pointing fingers here) that these stinky people were foreigners from countries where body hygiene is not necessarily a priority.
Even though I must admit that some French deodorants are weak (especially compared to the hardcore ones that one can find in Florida for example, because they’re really needed big time over there) and at the end of a busy day, if you had to wear a jacket or so all day long and if it’s warmer than expected, deodorant or not, it’s a good idea to have a shower after work.

But this question, which is a modernized version of the “French people don’t bathe” stereotype is a very interesting one in my opinion. As I’ve mentioned before (in the shaving question), most stereotypes about France that one can find in the US (and exported later to the rest of the English speaking world) come from right after WWII when GIs were stationed in France. And as previously mentioned, it was a time right after France had been occupied by Nazi Germany for four years, when everything was rationed and everybody was deprived of many things, and yes at that time it was more important to save the little water people had to drink and to cook rather than to bathe. Especially because most French houses didn’t have running water before the late 40’s if I’m not wrong.

  14 Responses to “Why don’t French people wear deodorant?”

  1. I thought perfume was invented because the French didn’t bathe regularly… or often… and that the parfum masked the bad body odor.. I don’t find that the French wear much perfume… but I a have DEFINITELY noticed the occasional sticky person on the metro….It’s only a select few… and I do think they are foreigners- or eastern countries…

  2. That’s wonderful that question are pouring in!

  3. IME, the difference is that in France, there’s mostly only antiperspirants available, not the combo-antiperspirant/deodorant stick that you’d usually find in the US. So it stops the sweating, but doesn’t do much for the odor.

  4. IME, My hubby wears deodorant and NEVER has any foul body odor… He is the CLEANEST Frenchie around… Hands down… And I’m NOT saying that just because I’m partial!!!

  5. I think French have more spray deodorants than stick deodorants, whereas in the US it is the opposite- most people use stick deodorants. Perhaps that somehow led to the stereotype- people visiting France couldn’t find the type of deodorant they were used to (stick) and concluded that French people don’t wear it. I don’t know about others but the French deodorants do not work for me, I have to use US ones.

  6. Hmmm, I can’t believe that this is still an active cliche.

    Ride any subway and you will be amongst a mixture of people and of course there will be someone with body odor and/or bad breath. Boston, New York, London, Paris … cities …. great groups of people. Same deal. During the summer in Boston my collegues and I would avoid riding the “T” (the subway) because we did not want to suffer the “T People” unless absolutely necessary. The stench is terrible.

    My fiance is Breton and there is no issue with body odor, never has been. I do feel that for some the cost of water may dictate how many showers or bathes they take per week but honestly the only time I was blown away by BO in France was riding the Metro in Paris. Same formula for the T People in Beantown I suspect.

    My fiance (and I when en France) lives in Brest and that is a small city. I’ve never been offended by anyone’s body odor in Bretagne.

    Just my two cents !

  7. Ha, Ginger, don’t worry, there are smelly people in Bretagne too. It just rarely gets hot enough there for people to sweat that much, LOL!! (My previous post was in reference to my experiences there, and not in Paris.) Try riding the metro in Rennes during the summer sometime - but again, it’s like you said - anywhere you have a bunch of people smooshed in close proximity, there’s bound to be some orders, no matter where you are in the world!

    Though Rennes IS the French capital of dreadlock-wearing, non-showering students, so that also contributes…

  8. Hi. I’m just a random passing person with a comment on this. I lived in France for 3 years and I did notice that people seemed in general less concerned with body odor there than in the US. This was good for me as I don’t mind body odor and have always been a little on the sweaty-smelling side myself. Sometimes that has been an issue in the US, but never in France.
    I did notice while living there that it was hard to find anti-perspirant in a supermarket. I remember at one time having to go to a pharmacy to find it. Typically what I was able to find was deodorant, but not with any aluminum - which might be bad for us anyway.
    I think the French should be proud of their acceptance of the human body and its odor.

  9. I think the biggest difference is that many deoderants in France (and europe in general) don’t contain aluminium, which makes the deoderant more effective and longer lasting.

    This is primarily the reason why you would notice b.o. more often Deoderants without aluminium last roughly 6hrs and with it, much much longer.

    I definitely noticed there were more people with b.o. when I lived in France.

  10. I bathe daily, and my french man wants to have his mouth on all parts of my body, and not get a mouthful of antiperspirant or deodorant. He likes my natural sweet body smell, which to him is my own personal perfume.

  11. I went on assignment to Nice, a very NICE place, along the French Riviera, for close to 3 months. I worked for a large Engineering firm, alongside some very sharp, and nice, people.

    NOBODY showered for weeks! The stench was unbearable. I could see my coworkers waring the same cloths and the same disheveled hair for at least 2 weeks before I noticed a change of cloths; didn’t matter whether they were boys or girls, though I did notice a couple of them gals, the exception, had perfume on.

    Walking down a corridor and approaching a group of 3-4 people chatting idly outside someone’s cube, I was hit with the collective reek as far as 10 feet away! Amazing - I kind of had to hold my breath while I walked right past them.

    And this was not isolated, by any means. I spent half a week in Paris, where ALL the Parisians I came across were going by the same habit.

    Quite frankly I was flabbergasted by this. But all and everyone I met they went about without a hint of apprehension. That’s just the way it was. In fact I did notice early on during my visit some people were visibly taken aback by my showing up showered and wearing a change of cloths every day. Strange, really strange.

  12. Indeed JC, indeed.

    You’re a funny one, aren’t you?

  13. I’ve never actually heard any stereotypes about French people! Now that I’ve read this, I can tell the people over here in Texas that they’re wrong if they say that they don’t wear deodorant. >:D

  14. Its because Euro deodorants arent as strong as American deodorants.
    Euro deodorants are actually more gentle on the underarms. when i shave, i can use my Fa roll on, and it doesnt sting, it feels very balanced and comfortable.
    If you have a healthy diet and you exercise, you will not really stink under your arms.

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