Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Do Indians Smell Bad?

Today and tomorrow I'm addressing two rumors I hear that get on my nerves.

While I would appreciate if you would continue reading this post after I give you the answer, I have decided to provide the short answer first for those of you who just can't wait.

Answer: Stop asking this question you flipping racist!!

Now that we got that out of the way. I've been on YouTube today watching funny videos and this topic seems to come up in a lot of Indian made comedy segments or funny videos both on YouTube and other places. Before I met hubby I had never heard this and I grew up around Indians. I will say my dad's best friend (who's Gujrati) has his moments where he refers to Indians by some not so nice terms that he thinks are okay to use when he starts cutting up with my dad. I will not repeat them here because I detest phrases like he uses and I know he gets them from the American public which makes it worse.

After watching a semi-funny video with Snoop Fobb and 50 Rupee just now it just got me thinking where in the world this rumor comes from. My dad's best friend never smelled bad, nor did any of his family I met. I routinely talked to this mans brother and his wife up until I left home last year and never noticed a smell (not even overpowering cologne/perfume). After moving here I did notice that there are smells in the air that will make you gag (like when the neighbor kills a chicken or the funeral pyre nearby is lit) but I haven't noticed anyone in this house smelling bad. (Though Uncle ji and Chachi both use the most offensive perfumed shampoo!) Even our maid doesn't smell and she comes here in the mid-afternoon after cleaning up several other houses (aka...other peoples dirty messes).

In the past year I have had one experience (in the summer) in which I had the misfortune of being stuck in the car with our driver on the way to the Taj Mahal and he hadn't showered for 2 days. Understandable...not pleasant, but understandable. I get out of this house 3-4 times a week almost every week. We have guests in the house on average every other week. The neighbors are always out and we encounter them in the street and there is a little old lady that stays here anytime she is not well (we adopted her because she doesn't have any family left). Even she doesn't stink in the usual sense that little old ladies normally would. (You US ppl know about BenGay and all that stuff we have to inhale when visiting grandma.)

Naturally, I Googled to see what I could find. I found all kinds of craziness talking about how Indians don't wear deodorant and that they smell like curry. This just makes me wonder why in the hell advertisers would pay so much for "deo" commercials if no one here wears it. And I'm not so sure that most curries smell bad but then again I love veggies so maybe I'm biased. I love the smell of most food cooking in the kitchen and curries rarely use cabbage so I have no complaints there. 

Now, outside of not enjoying the smell of certain types of hair oil being used in this family I don't think anyone I've met here stinks. I've heard this discussion come up (yes...I had bored coworkers at one time) about how some people smell. It's no secret among Americans that your diet can cause you to smell. If someone eats a lot of processed meats for example, they will almost always have this smell that is less than pleasant coming from their bodies. I also discovered the people who eat beef frequently have a smell I don't prefer as well. It cause me to quit eating beef about 5 years ago.

In my research I found something else interesting. I had a Mexican friend a long time ago who was smell sensitive. She noticed everyone's smell and I never really understood her but she washed all her clothes in special soap to get the smell out. It's hard to explain, you would have had to see the look on her face but she meant the smell of the human body and she didn't like it. My research said that pretty much every culture has a different smell. This makes sense but I really think it should be broken down further. I mean, the water is different all over the world and water here smells and taste different than at my dads house. The water at my dads house also smells and tastes different than where I worked (work water smelled bad) and also different from my mothers house. So if water and diet both contribute to how a person smells then it makes sense to say that you can't pinpoint a culture by smell. - Either good or bad.

Next time someone asks you if Indians smell bad I want you to give them your best evil eye look. Or at least make them feel like a fool because that's what they deserve. You should do that if they ask you this ridiculous question about any culture. Indians are no different than anyone else - they bathe daily, try to eat the foods they know are healthy and they do wear deodorant.


  1. scared to comment :)

  2. Lol, don't be scared to comment. I'm sure at some point you will hear this rumor as well. It's ugly and vicious and not true.

  3. Oh I've smelled the usual smells in India of unwashed human bodies- dirty feet, dirty hair, sweaty armpits. India is a tropical/temperate country for the most part-it gets HOT- & people sweat.
    Indians are also very practical & often prefer to buy & wear clothing made from petroleum products (ie polyester, gabardine, nylon) which can actually make you sweat more & are very difficult to get smells out of. Although polyester/nylon clothing does survive 'washing' treatments better than natural fibers.
    I've noticed as I've taught myself to cook Indian cuisine that the spattering cooking oil & frying/toasting the spices results in me & my clothing smelling a bit curry-like. So I try to do all the cooking in the morning & take my bath afterwards.
     Ha! When you went to the Taj Mahal- were you overwhelmed by the stench of dirty feet as you entered the mausoleum?(they make everyone take their shoes off inside)
    India's hot climate & closed toed shoes make for some stinky feet!

  4. I didn't have to take my shoes off at the Taj Mahal because I paid the foreigner ticket price and they gave me booties (so not worth the tripled rate for entrance). I also went when it was still chilly out back in April so I missed the smell of feet thankfully. Now that you mention it, I've yet to see many close-toed shoes here either. I don't think the women in this house even own any except the little girl because she goes to school. The men wear them to work sometimes but I see a significant number of sandals among them as well. I'm shocked I never noticed all of this until you mentioned it!

    Here cotton seems to be the cloth of choice and clothes are replaced frequently so I rarely smell any actual body odor. I'm really surprised because my nose can be quite sensitive. Driving down the street often plagues me because of the cow/dog excrement we always have to pass at some point or another.

    As for cooking, I don't mind smelling like food at all. I almost always smell of garlic and onions but I like that smell (probably because I'm so used to it lol because let's face it..onions are just not on the most loved perfume list). Oh man, and the days I get up the nerve to bake. That is really nice because I smell like warm sugar. Today is a garlic day hahaha...I would never survive one of those Indian households that doesn't eat onions and garlic for sure.

  5. Obviously I believe that not all Indians smell bad. I don't think there's anyone in my husband's family who smells bad, and I've met tons of Indians who don't smell. However...I go to a university with lots of international students. My first year I rode the bus that stopped at a complex where a lot of Indian students lived...and you could definitely smell it when they got on the bus. I don't know exactly how to describe the smell, but it was partly but not wholly body odor. So I do believe that *some* Indians smell bad, in a predictable way. Of course, I also believe that some Americans smell bad, too!

  6. LOL I have my blogging gmail set with my last name as my blogging pseudonym, "Awesome," which was chosen mostly to improve my husband's feelings toward my blogging addiction. Everywhere else, I just show up as "Sara." Looks kind of ridiculous, and I just wanted to clarify. ;)

  7. Deodorant is costly for low income earners in India, so understandably many choose not not wear it. People can as a result get a bit odorous in hot and humid Mumbai -- but so would anyone, not just Indians. ;-)

    I cook a lot of Indian food, but my house never has a lingering curry smell. The stinkiest thing I've come across, and have banned from the house, are Goan pork sausages!!

  8. I don't think the average human being that bathes on a daily basis needs any sort of 'deodorant'- an antibacterial soap should be sufficient.
    My house doesn't smell like curry- but me & my clothes do after a morning of cooking!

  9. You are a brave soul indeed for ever letting Indian pork into your home in the first place!

  10. Lol, just admit it... You are Awesome! Own it girly!

    I think it's kind of fascinating how Indians don't really smell bad at all (with the exception of he sweaty rickshaw driver in the mid-summer heat and others in similar situations of course). I know diet affects this a lot though so it shouldn't surprise me since the majority of the country is vegan or vegetarian and meat isn't in every meal for those who aren't. I haven't been on the bus and the train seats I've ridden in weren't next to anyone so I'll take your word on the bus riders - though I must say that students probably have the worst diets in the country because they take that freedom and the readily available street foods and run with it (not to mention the sneaking alcohol and all that stuff too). There's no telling where that smell came from that offended your nose lol.

  11. I've had the weirdest experiences when it comes to Indians smelling. Back in India, I know that majority of people don't wear deodorant. They wear powder instead. So they don't smell. There also are a lot of inexpensive sandalwood based soaps available everywhere so low income earners manage to not have BO most of the time. 

    However, I've had the worst experiences in Australia. I hate to say this because I am Indian but it wasn't pleasant. At least 5 times a week, I would walk past someone (Indian) who smelled really bad. It was the smell of of dried sweat. A girl I worked with had it and we knew she did laundry once in 6 weeks. 

  12. I think the only place I really encountered BO when I visited India was the airports and that was entirely understandable to me that people who have been traveling god knows how long in that heat wouldnt be at their best. I so very agree about the alcohol smell. Not everyone can smell it but I can and the smell of alcohol coming from someone's pores is the worst.

  13. Wow. That's fascinating. I wonder if it has something to do with the quality of the food or the difference in lifestyle between here and there. It's so gross that girl didn't do her laundry. Ugh...that's so lazy. I used to know a Mexican girl who didn't like laundry and so instead of doing it her and her husband went out and bought new clothes once everything god dirty and she was happy telling people about it. I can't imagine what the clothes pile must look like for people like this lol.

  14. Indeed, considering I don't like pork and don't eat it! :-(

  15. You're just talking about sweat. India is humid most of the months and it's impossible to not sweat.

    Now there's two kinds of sweat i know: 1) the meat eater sweat 2) oil

    The meat eater sweat is foul. It only comes from people who eat meat more than 3 times a week. Maybe perfume dissolves it, idk. It gives me headaches and opening all the windows doesn't help either. I can't explain the smell but it leaves me suffocating.

    Some communities use weird homemade oils that you won't find in retail stores. It smells like a new perfume but very undesirable.

    Also, every state smells different. Most houses smell different. You take out the clothes from a neighbors closet and it smells nothing like you have ever smelled before. Its not perfume. Who knows were it comes from.

    My mother just came back after a two day stay at her mothers place and now she and all the things she brought smells like my grandmothers house. Again, it not perfume but some kind of flavour.

  16. I agree with you on the sweat issue. You can tell who eats red meat and who doesn't. As for chicken I haven't noticed (nor tried to) whether or not those people smell different from vegetarians. This rumor just bothers me when I hear it or see it online. It's sad to think that way. I can only imagine that the individuals asking don't eat very healthy and thus don't realize that veggies have a wonderful aroma both fresh and cooked. Not to mention the spices and fragrances that come with cooking.

    I'm glad I haven't smelled the perfumed oils you mentioned. I know MIL buys some brand for her hair that is too strong but about 15 minutes after she puts it on the smell is gone so I just leave the area until then lol. I think the points you made go right in line with what I was trying to say. Everyone smells different because of their lifestyle and eating habits, not because of their race.

  17. I had the same experience in UK where some indian girls who smell really bad. And the reason is that they don't do laundry. Smelly is smelly, no matter where it came from, their body or the clothe they are wearing.

  18. Interesting. Now I have to wonder why some young girls don't do laundry much when they go abroad. I'm wondering if those were the girls who always had a maid and were taught they didn't have to do menial work until marriage.

  19. It does seem to correlate with experience for me. I can't ignore my own sensory input. It is a certainty that, at least where I am, the number of Indians that have detectable "BO" is disproportionally higher than the other nationalities that I come into contact with (middle easterners also). I am absolutely not racist but extremely curious. If I make an observation and don't understand it, I want to understand it. I have not seen any hypotheses that match my observations.

    Ian almost certain it's not the food because the smell goes away when they shower (I have "lived" with an Indian for a few days but only saw him shower once, by the way).

    The best thing I can come up with is that the Indians that tend to immigrate to the United States tend to shower less often and/or not wear deoderant OR they use deoderant without antiperspirant.

    I'm pretty sure I'm not hallucinating and I have corroborated the observations with those of others. Is there someone out there that can look at this rationally and help me come up with an explanation without accusing me of being a racist? I hate how you can't even ask a question or be curious about anything that can be construed as shining a bad light on a specific group of people. If I said, "I've noticed that criminals in prison seem to be more religious than the general population?" would you insult me? Probably not. Because it doesn't have to do with race and it's not a bad thing. Please, let's use a scientific mindset when discussing things rather than a reactionary and emotional one.

    Who knows. Maybe if we get a consensus on this, those Indians that do smell bad can do something about it if they wish.

    So, either me and some of my colleagues are completely batshit and having the same hallucinations simultaneously or Indians tend to have body odor disproportionate to Americans and possibly the French, Brazilians and Hispanics. I know what you will say but I find the latter much more likely than the former.

    Can we come up with an explanation? I doubt it. Why even think about it when you can call it racist instead, right? We should ignore evidence of it suggests something that you feel is unpleasant or not "PC", right? You can go on ignoring and I'll continue to seek theories that match up with observation. That is my prerogative.

  20. Well, at the moment I live in Korea. prior to moving to Korea I was at Germany. I am Indian and a vegetarian. I have noticed this characteristic smell creeping out of the Meat eating Indian friends of mine. We did an experiment to prove this to other Indian folks. There was this guy who had a reputation of bad body odor. He used to eat a lot of Indianized Tuna and Indian Chicken curry or Egg curry. He would be eating it almost every alternate day.I asked him to stop eating it for  a few weeks. He went on full veggie diet with very less spices and no Ginger garlic and aestofeda(not sure about the spelling). Literally he was eating what I was cooking. after a fortnight, he didnt smell bad at all. He didnt even need deodrants anymore. I think it has to do with Oil and meat along with Ginger garlic and the fumes settle down to your clothes and over a period of time fermented in sweat :P  Korean food's spices smell doesnt stick to hair and clothes.

  21. I'm sure you're right about smell. I saw a scientific experiment recently that proved eating garlic does make your skin smell. On some people it is very light and barely noticeable but on others it is very strong. Onions are the same way. So what you eat really does matter. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

    Also, I've never had Korean food. I should definitely try some one day soon.

  22. It's true. I am a half Indian living in the Philippines. People don't notice that I am Indian because I don't look like one. When I tell them, a lot of them say "It's a good thing you don't smell bad". It hurts me but that's how things are here for me all the time. Also, I had two classmates who were pure Indian and were bullied because of their smell. No one would eat lunch with them, they were loners in school. I didn't have to heart to confront them about their odor. Whenever there's an indian in a public place, people avoid that person or cover their noses. I hear people make jokes about Indian smell but I just try to ignore it.

  23. That's terrible. No one should be treated that way. Maybe it's just me but I don't feel like Indians smell bad - at least not most of them. A few here and there were hard to be around in the summer but I've seen that in the US as well. Some people just naturally have a strong odor. I wouldn't attribute it to culture. Of course, I'm also learning that each person prefers certain smells or gets used to them and then those smells don't bother us as much. Like one commenter mentioned she could smell the difference between meat eaters and non meat eaters. It's an interesting concept. I hope you classmates eventually find a community and don't have to continue being loners and that you won't get insulted any longer. It's just rude for people to act that way.

  24. I searched this subject because every stereotype i found about smelly indians at the gym or at the train were true. Yeah occasionally you will meet an indian whom doesn't smell from 5 feet away, but more often the opposite is true.

    We all smell and we all sweat to a certain degree, but its a difference of smelling bad from 7 o'clock in the morning like for indian people and from 7 o'clock in the evening like for white people.

    The comments you make about mexican people just serves to prove that you want other people to be blamed for what you know is inheritable a problem for indians/pakistans.

    Im so happy I moved out from my student appartment, no more smelly indian neighbors, no more curry or cumin smelling food odors from just walking by an indian persons apartment.

    And because you are so offended and angry you know there is truth to this, or you would just brush it off like a rumor.

    Why not encourage your fellow indians to adopt a culture of washing, scrubbing and cleaning the body every day and airing out the apartment daily to keep things fresh if they are in a culture which predominantly does this? "Cleanliness is next to godliness" should be something indian people should strive for, rather than incense and curry to please their gods.

  25. I just remembered a greasy haired indian male taking the same train as I was. Seriously there is nothing that stopped him from taking a shower that morning or washing himself in a sink if so necessary. He had well combed greasy hair and a BO so dense that no one sat next to him or the seats in front or back during RUSH hour in the morning. Explain that unless there is a cultural belief or simply lazyness (like the mexicans right? they are ok to make fun of) not to clean your self.

  26. I'm not sure why you thought I was being disrespectful toward Mexicans. I said my Mexican friend could detect bodily odors and didn't like anyone's body smell. That was the only time I mentioned Mexicans. One persons sense of smell toward others - including white people.

    While I can't answer specifically about the Indians you encountered I do know that many of them use scented hair oil to protect their hair. This could explain what you describe as "greasy hair." I do not like the scent of many of those oils myself but, people in the US use similar products including scented shampoos and similar oils. Regardless of what country those come from, they can be quite strong sometimes.

    The Indians I know do shower daily, often more than once a day. If you're offended by the smell of someone, you are more than welcome to get up and move yourself so you don't have to be bothered. It's a free country.

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  55. I came across the blog because I was searching online how to deal with a gym member with bad body odor. I attend fitness classes and in one of my classes there is a middle aged Indian woman who carries a stench. If I am standing on the same half off the room as she, then I can't bear to stay in the area. You're not going to be happy reading this but I'm commenting for advice, not to insult. Yes, body odor can come from someone of any ethnic background but I mention that this woman's Indian because I notice a common smell in Indians with body odor (I'm not saying all Indians have body odor, but the ones that do share a distinct smell). Do you think that in this case she honestly does not smell her own body odor or she is aware of it but chooses not to help conceal the odor? If you think she doesn't know then how would someone approach her to kindly let her know? In my opinion, if she doesn't know about her body odor and somebody informed her, she would probably want to do something about it out of common decency. If not, then I think it's rude that she still comes to a public gym to exercise knowing that her smell may offend people who she is in close quarters to.

  56. I would say it's very possibly she doesn't realize her odor is offensive to others. There are many Indians who don't regularly wear deodorant, etc. Our smell comes from our diet so most likely something she eats is a smell you don't like. This can happen in any culture but with Indian spices being so prevalent, there's a strong chance this woman's odor comes from the spices. She may not think it stinks or may be used to it.

    I know personally there is some spice my husband cooks with that makes the entire house stink. Thankfully he doesn't use it often and I'm even more grateful it doesn't transfer to his skin/sweat.

    I doubt anyone has ever told her about her odor as that would be generally rude from a stranger or acquaintance and her family and friends probably are used to the scent that bothers you.

    Another thought is that she could be eating meats that cause this. Any processed meat will cause strong, offensive odors in a person's sweat.

    I'm not sure how you should handle the issue though. Maybe the best way to handle the issue is to inform a worker at the gym and let them handle it. She can't possibly be the first person to come in there who has body odor issues. As professionals, they should know how to address the issue gently.