the smells that betray us all


INDELICACY ALERT : This is not the first time I’ve risked grossing you out, but I’ve never committed premeditated blogging about something that you might potentially find offensive.  You couldn’t avoid getting a general idea about my topic today just like you couldn’t avoid reading the title above, so you probably already know the area of discourse I’m leading you to.

But before that, please indulge me first three bits of news that have struck me as either unbelievable, wise or  smart, if you want further information please feel free to click on the sentence fragments :

When being lucky is sometimes unlucky.  The winning Lotto combination Saturday before last was 1-2-12-27-29-31, with a Powerball (additional one-number draw) of 2.  No less than thirteen individuals correctly guessed the combination, and one person correctly guessed the Powerball number.  This means (1) thirteen people shared the Jackpot prize of $1 million, rounding out to roughly $70,000 each, one of the lowest jackpot shares in NZ Lotto history and (2) one of those lucky 13 winners received an additional $15 million for his correct Powerball guess.  How unfair is that?

So gifted, and yet so guilt-ridden.  Even before the most recent shootings in Sandy Hook School, one of my favorite authors Stephen King had already withdrawn Rage, a book he had written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.   The fact that two schoolboy killers in 1996 and 1997 owned a copy of the book was enough for him to withdraw it from the market.  Such literary genius Mr King possesses must be balanced by the guilt he must feel as Rage is about a middle school student who goes on a shooting spree after developing a fixation on guns.

Cut off from your daily fix of Farmville OR porn OR Instagram?  Cry no more!  After ruling that a person deprived of Internet service is entitled to claim damages from the internet service provider (ISP), a German federal court has ruled that the internet is “an essential part of life” and therefore losing access gives a person the right to compensation.  One can only imagine the jurisprudence and precedents this innocuous sounding decision will give rise to, not just in Germany but worldwide.

And now on to our sordid topic…

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ESPECIALLY  DURING winter months, I don’t change my safety clothes/work gear daily because I hardly break a sweat and it doesn’t seem right to change clothes every day when they hardly look or smell used.  Our workplace is relatively clean and if I do the work properly, it’s smooth sailing equals sweet smelling during most of the shift.

A colleague once asked how I could use the same work clothes for two days (or even three) without wrinkling up my nose, whereupon I took out a fresh shirt and, next to my day-old hi-viz, challenged him to tell the difference scent wise.

Aba, walang pinagkaiba (hmm, no diff!) I heard him say (although it was the rough Pacific Islander English equivalent), just like the TV detergent ad back home.  He really couldn’t tell which was which, and I told him it was because, modesty aside and outside my control,  if nothing went wrong during the shift requiring serious exertion, I very rarely perspired (except between Dec and Jan, the warmest months here).  I could’ve tried to explain to him that many East Asians are low on the kind of sweat glands that produce body odor, and therefore even if we sweat it doesn’t offend so much.  But I guessed that it would’ve taken more than a few minutes that I had before I had to rush home.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for some of my workmates, who hardly felt the need to bathe everyday unless it’s unbearably humid or it’s hot date night.  One guy you could actually smell as soon as he entered the locker room, redolent of fried onions, stale ham and last night’s dinner.  Another, the guy who took my smell test, didn’t smell too badly except when he started perspiring and his sweat started to combine with his cigarette breath.  That’s when it was time to avoid him.

Smells and scents, especially of armpits, scalps and perfumes, form part of our sharpest memories from birth, and well into our old age we continue to add to our store of olfactory remembrances.  The shadings and gradings of such are defined strongly by genetics alterations and medical conditions, according to our good friends at Wikipedia, so that culture probably plays a very little part.  Still, I’d like to mention how smells from different cultures help me tell them apart (without mentioning the actual race/nationality) :

Garlic– I can’t mention the nationality, but they are very popular in the online, fashion and culinary world (think of addictive pickled cabbage 😉 ), they’re also great in the telenovela department, but for some reason I hear a good percentage of them emit a garlicky aura sometimes.  So much that I’ve actually tried to engage a few members of that nationality and unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my nose) I drew blanks each time.  Likewise, I can think of quite a few odors worse than a faint garlic smell.

Certain dishes – this is probably the most durable argument against the insistence that diet and/or culture has nothing to do with the way you naturally smell.  Honestly, if we didn’t smell like patis and bagoong, South Asians didn’t smell like curry and Orientals didn’t smell like chili and sesame oil, then how could the rest of the world identify us as if these were our signature smells?

Musky – and yet there are stronger smells than condiments, ingredients and memorable dishes.  If you can’t accept that cuisine and culture play a negligible part in how we smell, then it’s probably a no-brainer that climate and hygiene do.  Why is it that the moment their deodorants expire, males of every skin, color and persuasion begin to smell like a combination of cured meat, gym socks and stale  pizza?  Moreover, and you don’t have to take my word for it, each major racial category has a distinct smell that coincides with sweatiness.

I can’t elaborate without offending at least three-quarters of the male population,  but when you’re born and raised in the tropics, showers are second nature to you.  Conversely, living in sub-zero climes necessitates conserving warmth all the time, so cleanliness and smelling like Ylang-ylang slash gumamela fabric conditioner is not exactly a priority.  And yet, you can bet your last kilo of NFA rice that in the deepest winter, every Pinoy/Pinay in Europe, North America and New Zealand continues to take a shower each day before work, and a second shower before going to bed for good measure, regardless of the season.  (and hopefully with hot, hot water.)

If you think I’m stretching the truth, or exaggerating, just spend a little more time with guys who exercise regularly, particularly in multi-racial, multi-cultural milieux.  And while you’re at it, and especially if you’re a girl, you might as well spend time with their female counterparts as well.  Happy smelling!

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3 thoughts on “the smells that betray us all

  1. Without mentioning race…… that one really make me gag everytime they are in the vicinity… and i’m not the only one…. in dad’s workplace, almost everybody is annoyed at this group because of the smell of their food everytime they microwave it, which actually mimics their body smell.

  2. Pingback: cheat sheet red flags for pinay admirers | YLBnoel's Blog

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