Being around lots of different people at both school and work, I’ve noticed that people of some ethnic background smell stronger than others. I don’t really want to say they stink, because it doesn’t exactly smell like B.O., but its not a particularly pleasant smell either. Most of the people that have this trait are Indian, and to a lesser extent some east Asian people have it to. Not all of them are like that of course but I have noticed it quite frequently.
I have heard this is because of their diet, but I know plenty of people that eat strong foods who don’t smell like what they eat. I’m sure different people probably have their own ‘scent’ and our noses must surely have at least a minimal capacity to pick up on this, right? So am I just noticing people that happen to smell stronger than others?
…Or is it just body odor? Are there some cultures that don’t believe in covering up odors like that/bathing regularly?
Personally I’d say it’s 90 percent diet - some things just come out in your sweat more and usually are pretty darn good for you.
Part of it is probably that most of the world isn’t horrified by the smell of /fresh/ human being. Fresh sweat is considered an okay smell by most folks and it contains all sorts of mate-attracting things =)
It’s an odd obsession of a few places to eradicate or swamp out any smell that might be considered remotely natural. Personally, I’d rather smell fresh sweat than ten gallons of some God-awful aftershave/perfume - the latter being more worthy of the title ‘stink’ than the former.
As for individual smells, everyone smells different. Go to your parents bed and smell the pillows, or your childrens, or your sisters. Everyone has a unique scent and it can be very comforting to wear something worn by a loved one while they’re away for this very reason.
A pity so much of the west have been trained into becoming nasal plebians. =)
This would actually be a great GQ question. The short answer is that the differences you note are indeed cultural (diet, domestic accoutrements, personal hygiene standards, etc.), and are not somehow biologically based along apparent “racial” lines.
DIET - Unfortunately, I can’t explain the science behind this factor very well. I do know that what one eats does affect what’s expressed through one’s sweat glands and sebaceous glands, but it’s not a direct expression. For instance, eating a lot of curry does not make one’s accumulated sweat smell exactly like curry – but a build-up of the odor that does result may be somehow offensive to those unaccustomed to being around folks who eat curry.
DOMESTIC ACCOUTREMENTS - Folks who burn incense in their homes, for example, may pick up the incense odor in their clothing and hair. Cooking smells can accumulate this way, as well.
PERSONAL HYGIENE - Your query concerning cultural differences in body odor tolerance is valid. Some folks bathe weekly or so. Some folks don’t use soap, or use non-traditional cleansing items in lieu of Western-style soap (e.g. pumice stones). There are differences in frequency of hair-washing, as well.
In travels across much of Texas and the southwest, I’ve noticed a particular and reoccurring smell when entering the lobby of a number of midpriced motels. The smell is always the same, quite distinct, and without fail it’s present in those run by families of Indian or Pakistani descent.
I’ve spent the last 20 years working with several companies that were staffed with a very international contingent. Many of these folks were also of Indian and/or Pakastani descent. To a lesser degree I did encounter the same distinct smell I’d noticed in the hotel lobbies that were, I assume, directly connected to their living quarters and, therefore, kitchen area.
This would lead me to think it was some dietary influence, such as maybe curry, that was responsible for the association I’d made during my travels.
That’s the only unscientific generalization I can make. Haven’t really noticed a similar sensation with any other groups.
One of my roommates in college took a sociology class dealing in race which had some rather interesting tidbits. One of the things he shared with me was that there is an ethnic group that sweats and smells more than all others–caucasians.
I had a half-Chinese/half-British friend who went to China to visit his mother’s family for the first time. When he came back, he said that his mother’s family had kidded him because he smelled like a European (actually, I think they said “white devil” ;)).
I work in Africa quick a bit. I have noticed that my field assistants in Central Africa, from Cameroon to Gabon to Zaire, have shared a rather distinctive body odor. I have not noticed this in African-Americans, nor in South Africa, so it is probably connected with diet (palm oil?) rather than any characteristic of Africans in general.
I’d certainly agree many people smell stronger than others, and smell is affected by diet, bathing habits, perfumes and the importance attached to odour. I was in Paris during the heat wave, and the French are not famous for their love of showers. I know several Canadians with French parents who seemed to shower as often as other Canadians, and smelled different – race is merely one factor.
apparently there’s also some physiological reasons behind the smell of different races, diet notwithstanding(first hand experience as well). i think a person probably just gets used to people that smell similarly, when in fact your particular subset of people smell just as strange to outsiders.
I have a way-too-strong strong sense of smell, and I’ve noticed this too. In my experience, the number one factor in the kind of unpleasant body odor (not fresh sweat) you’re talking about is frying food in the house. This will vaporize all the other stuff you put in your food along with a lot of sticky little oil particles, and the vapor gets in your clothing and upholstery – it doesn’t even always wash out very well, especially if you don’t always use hot water in the laundry, which many people don’t, in order to save money, to go easier on their clothes, or because the hot-water heater peters out early. I think the vapor particles eventually even work their way into your skin, though I’m not sure about that.
I’ve noticed that I and my non-immigrant American friends tend not to fry food at home much, or in fact really cook at home much in general, probably because we’re too cavalier about wasting our money on restaurants, where the cleanup is so much easier. Or prepared foods that just need to be microwaved. My immigrant friends tend to be smarter about (not) spending money on restaurants.
My husband and I once did a massive cleanup job on a trailer home he owned – he grew up in it, and eventually inherited it, and had to rent it out when he went to grad school. The renters were white non-immigrant Americans who fried most of their food, which included a lot of beef and fish (and they weren’t the best about cleaning the kitchen). The place smelled just like the jackets of some recent Chinese immigrant grad student friends of ours – I was really struck by the similarity.
lieu, I know that North Indian and Pakistani cooking uses frying, and also meat, a lot more than South Indian cooking does. My friends from Tamil Nadu have never had “that smell” either on their person on in their house. My friend from Kashmir doesn’t cook much, and she doesn’t have it either. So I think this supports my theory!
Colibri, do you know whether your Central African field assistants use that palm oil for frying?
Eat something with a lot of fresh garlic and/or onions in it. Make sure you don’t cut them up yourself and try not to overcook the poor things.
After you’ve eaten, brush your teeth and wash your hands with water.
Two hours later, smell and lick your fingertips - salty garlic and onion should be there plain as day. This happens with a lot of foods, but garlic and onion are the most noticable to me.
White people have a distinctive smell to me. Sometimes it smells like boloney, but I think the consensus among those who notice such things is that it’s more of a “milky” odor. Over the years I have chalked it up to the oils in their hair. Wet white people hair definitely has an odor.
Black people have an odor too I’m sure, but I don’t know what it smells like.
At least some of them weren’t doing their own cooking when I was with them - they were in camp with everyone else and eating what everyone else ate, sometimes for a period of a month or more. So it was something longer term than just what they had been cooking at home.
I think emilyforce hit the nail on the head. I myself am tamil, and as soon as I saw this thread I thought, “Shit, it’s gonna mention us.”
The thing is Asian cultures do tend to cook a lot of fried food, and it does smell. Nowadays, most asians are really paranoid about stuff like this, no one wants to be the smelly co-worker. When my mom cooks traditional foods or anything, she always opens the door m(even in winter), makes us close our room doors(so that it doesn't get into our clothes), and if possible will cook outside. Generally she avoids cooking really fried foods.
I've been to Sri Lanka, and there it doesn't really make an effect since the houses there are designed to be really open, and breezy because of the heat.
The smell may also be another cultural thing, the use of deoderant. I know my sister and I use it, but my parents were all surprised when we first bought it, my uncles actually made fun of us when we brought it over from Canada :).
But, I don't really notice any smell from my parents, or relations, they do use plenty of powder though. Plus my parents don't really do alot of work that makes them sweat.
I was recently wondering about this. There is somewhere near where I work that seems to be educating lots of Africans I think are Nigerians. Several times recently I have been accosted by one and asked directions somewhere. They all seem to have a very small privacy perimeter and stand very close while talking to you. Every time it has happened I have been struck by how fragrant their breath and body odour is - it’s like talking to a bunch of flowers. I actually started looking up Nigerian recipes in a futile attempt to solve the mystery.
Wow, I thought that was just my mum being bizarre! She was absolutely certain that my sister’s ex boyfriend had a strong lamb odour - we all thought it was just a mixture of deoderant, BO, car air freshener and pizza (he had strong BO, put on lots of deoderant, and was a Pizza Hut delivery guy).