Thursday, November 19, 2009

Being Fined for Body Odor, Stinky Tales and Fishy Questions

GETTING RID OF THAT SMELL

My trip to California Fitness in Orchard last week, thanks to referrals made by friends for a free two-week workout where you'd have to fight not to get enrolled before you get the pass, made me think, of all things, about terrible human smell. It so happened that one (thank goodness, just one) of the personal trainers had terrible body odor.

The sales staff who welcomed me noticed the slightest hint of my irritation and said, “Yeah I know, that guy has body odor and he doesn’t seem to mind.”

“Did you tell him about it? Did any of your customers complain?” I asked.

“I think he knows but as I said, he doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t know about the customers, I’m just a newbie.” She answered.

This got me thinking, what could possibly lead this person to do something about his, er, condition? Will customer complaints be sufficient? Will this lead to the management telling the trainer to act on it, in the interest of retaining their customers? And would that lead the trainer to really do something about it, such as using a deodorant, in the interest of keeping his job? (As a side note, I am thankful that no religion prohibits a person from using deodorants, at least none that I'm aware of). Perhaps it is also worth asking, would there be customers willing to exert the effort of actually complaining? Unless the trainer is a newbie too, the answer must be obvious — the situation must have been changed if someone had complained.

What about if all his colleagues agreed to one day cover their noses and deliberately avoid him? Will this form of ostracism help achieve the desired results? Maybe some would find this proposed solution rude, perhaps, even cold-hearted. But maybe such desperate scenario calls for such desperate measure? Perhaps the embarrassment brought about by this protest could bring about the desired effect. Or maybe not, if the trainer decides to leave his work instead, bringing the problem along with him. Either way, the true objective is met: the bad smell is finally gotten rid of, at least in that particular fitness center.

What if one his buddies, such as the sales gal who was trying to convince me to become a member, talked to him out of concern? Something that simple could probably work.

After all those questions, maybe the most important one has yet to be asked. Is body odor not so bad that people are willing to accept it?

A FINE CITY

Singapore’s reputation as a fine city is widely known. In case you are not from this planet, fine in this statement refers to two things: that of being great (adjective) and that of imposing (verb) penalties to citizens for behavior deemed inappropriate.

I have stated in a previous post that I have observed, or rather, I have not observed that the fines are being strictly imposed. Or maybe, they are not imposed as much as I feared or thought they would be. Or it could be that data is not made publicly made known or doesn’t make it to the news because there are more important issues after all. Whatever may be the case, the good news is that while there maybe violators, most of the violations I've observed are relatively minor. For instance, eating secretly in trains is nothing compared to openly smoking in them, so people only tend to do more of the former than of the latter. It appears that people know what violations to commit where the chances of being actually fined is relatively low compared with other types of violations.

The topic of fines for misdemeanor always leads me to one question. Forget for a minute all the previous questions I've already posted. Let's assume for a moment that smelling bad is, well, not good. Why are people not being fined for smelling bad then? Isn’t that more or less the same as fining people for bringing durians on buses and trains? (In case you’re not aware, durians are not the best smelling fruits in the world).

I think I may have an answer, several actually, to my own question this time.

Smell is subjective

“One person’s woe is another person’s happiness.”

I remember several years ago when we were in the office pantry. A techie comes in, eagerly announcing his arrival to join us in our coffee break.

“Gosh I love that smell,” utters one gal from Marketing.

“You mean that ash tray smell?” I said, trying to sound amused.

“Yeah, I’ve recently quit smoking.”

In the case of body odor, maybe, just maybe, some of us still prefer the caveman’s smell. Maybe it serves to attract or repel the opposite sex, whatever one's purpose.

Smell is not easily measured

“Prove to me by means of sheer logic that Person A smells worse than Person B.”

I have dreamed of devices that could be used to measure the intensity of smell. Such a device would not only make the inventor rich but would also benefit the general public. Imagine smell detectors in airports and train stations. Imagine cyberdog stations tracking criminals. Imagine sensors sniffing out drugs in clubs and if necessary, people’s underpants. Imagine scentoscopes sniffing out anomalies in a person’s body.

This very same kind of technology could be used to disallow people with body odor to ride trains and buses. Certain people could be ushered to disinfecting rooms before they are allowed to board public transports or enter buildings. People purposely letting their body odors wreak havoc could finally be fined!

Unfortunately, such a device probably doesn’t exist yet. Or they are not cheap enough (or economically sound) to be manufactured.

The damage brought about by smelling bad is potentially low

“No one ever got killed by body odor.”

I am willing to bet that somewhere in the world, a person was stabbed or killed because someone accused another person of having body odor. But this sort of thing is a freaky occurrence. I mean, it doesn’t happen on a daily basis. Besides, aren’t there bigger things to argue about (which leads me to think, aren’t there better things for this stupid writer to write about?)?

The fact remains however, that the harm or damage caused or inflicted by one person choosing not to do something about his body odor to another cannot be measured and therefore cannot be said to be disastrous. Well, I guess that even if there was some way to measure it, the damage is more superficial than real. After all, if you happen to sit beside someone who hasn’t taken a bath for a week, doesn’t wear a deodorant, wore his clothes to sleep, doesn’t change his beddings for at least two month and before all that allowed his clothes to dry in the kitchen with the aroma of food being cooked seeping into the fibers, you might puke your stomach out or faint but you’re not necessarily going to die. (Unless you hit your head in the course of fainting, which could probably be grounds for taking legal action. And oh, by the way, you might be the one ending up getting fined for throwing up on the MRT and not your horrible smelling seatmate.)

No one gets killed by smelling durians but durians are nonetheless getting banned in trains and buses. Maybe they're being banned for different reasons altogether (e.g, they leave stains, they're too bulky, etc.) other than the fact that they smell. Maybe it's just that durians are easier to spot (with the eyes) than body odor. If we could come up with a device that shows up bacteria or whatever minute particle causes body odor, maybe that will allow us to see and maybe we don't have to be subjective after all? Or is it just easier to accept that durians stink?

AWARENESS AND INCENTIVE

Awareness and recognition of the problem are always the first step towards solving it. What if the person who has body odor isn't even aware of it? How would you propose to let the person know without hurting his or her feelings and not ruin your relationship? Will telling it straight do the job or will mitigation be better?

Well, you can probably choose from any of these approaches:

1. Direct Query:"Hey, do you use a deodorant?" With this approach, you could probably think about your next statement depending on the person's response. Maybe you can follow up with any of the other statements below.

2. Suggestion: "I think it's best that you use a deodorant." This is another way of saying, "You have body odor so you should do something about it." The words "I think" might somehow soften it because you appear to be throwing an opinion instead of stating a fact.

3. Strong Suggestion, third-party approach: "People with body odor should use deodorants." I am guessing that the person's reply would probably be: "Why are you telling me this?" You could probably follow up with #1.

4. Query, hint: "Don't you think people with body odor should use deodorants?" In this case, you're trying to get the other person to either agree or disagree with you and therefore open up the topic.

4. Hint, rude: "What is that stinking smell?" This could be asking for trouble, especially if the person is mildly aware of his body odor.

5. Move your nose and then cover it. Make your eyebrows meet then shake your head. Act as if you're about to throw up. No words, just show it through your actions.

That should take care of the awareness part. As for recognition, that's entirely up to the other person.

I remember part of a conversation with a colleague a few years ago.

"Call me ugly or fat, just don't call me stinky or dumb."

For certain people, being stinky is as bad as being dumb. That might appear to be obvious; I mean it is easy to conclude you'd have to be dumb to remain stinky. But an office worker or a personal trainer to be dumb and stinky? That is highly unlikely. (Unless being unable to tolerate stinky people is what should be considered dumb.)

Assuming the awareness and recognition stages are taken care of, is there a real incentive to smelling good anyway? Or to put it in another way, if I am stinky, why should I exert effort not to be? What benefit would I get from doing something about my body odor?

In certain circles, people with body odor get ostracized. They are avoided like the plague.

I remember an incident in one of our projects in a bank in Shenton Way, where one of the consultants was nicknamed Moses. I didn't get it immediately but during the very first time our paths crossed I knew. People made way for him when he arrived. Imagine the parting of the Red Sea.

That didn't solve the problem. My guess is that because not everyone avoided him and the people he had to work with still continued to work with him, he had no real incentive to do something about his body odor.

Again, in certain circles, people let you know if you had body odor. People avoided you. People let you know — subtly, directly, rudely, however which way — that you stink and you should do something about it. That is mildly equivalent to getting fined. The message you get is clear: "You better do something about that or stay away from us."

WRAPPING UP

Someone once told me that everyone has body odor. I do not necessarily object.

It's natural, it's part of puberty, I remember being taught in elementary. I remember being taught about observing proper hygiene too, such as taking a bath daily and using deodorants when necessary. Could educating people about body odor during their elementary years work? Is that similar to saying that people who have bad body odor were not taught about such things in their younger years? I don't know. If only there were data to sift through.

I recall Rochelle's story about her boss who uses the deodorant Rexona on his palms. During that first time she mentioned this, I said maybe her boss rubs it on his armpits when they're not looking and then shakes their hands to welcome them when they came to his office. We find her boss' practice weird and funny, but he must have his reasons and I'll leave it at that.

This makes me think, what if there were data on the sales of deodorants against the total population of a major metropolitan such as Singapore? Can a fair conclusion be made? What about advertisements? Can more ads lead to more usage? It would be great to get my hands on this type of data.

Speaking of ads, a few months ago, I came across an ad for a deodorant which advertises it could last for one week. They advertised on buses and bus stops. I hated those ads. I am just not so convinced that something like that could actually work. And what about taking a bath daily, isn't that suppose to wash away grease, grime, odor and deodorant alike? I kept thinking — these guys were promoting the wrong thing! I am willing to bet they didn't sell much of that stuff.

I really should be wrapping this up by now, for I am way over 2,000 words. I have no proposed permanent solution to this whole body odor thing, if it's even a problem. I do however have a remedy and so I say all hope is not lost. I once saw on TV that people who work with stench use some sort of cream to trick their minds into not smelling the stench. I wish I could get my hands on that. For now, I'll have to do with Vicks VapoRub, Tiger Balm and White Flower.

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4 Comments:

At November 19, 2009 at 6:12 PM , Blogger Brad Farless said...

Wow. You really went crazy with this topic! Long post!

I remember those ads where they were advertising the one week deodorant. I thought it was ridiculous and a scam. Like you said, if you're bathing every day, properly, there's no way a deodorant would last a week because it would get washed off. It was more like they were advertising that you wouldn't have to take a bath for a week if you used their deodorant.

If people can be fined for taking durians into public transportation I think they should be equally culpable when it comes to body odor. There are times when its unavoidable, such as when you've been working in the sun all day. However, you can tell the difference between a person who smells of a day in the sun and a person who smells like they shit their pants and haven't cleaned themselves for weeks.

One time my wife and I were in the Jurong East area and we got on a train. The smell was so overpowering that it made our eyes water and our stomachs clench. We got off at the next station and waited for the next train. Otherwise I think we'd both have vomited long before reaching our destination.

You put it pretty well, offering up solutions, but the bottom line is that somehow there are way too many people that don't bathe often enough riding the public transportation in Singapore. I've had the opportunity to ride the trains in Manila and for a 3rd world country that's supposed to be dirty, all I smelled at 5pm on a train so crowded I didn't have to hold the rail to stay upright, was deodorant and fabric softener.

 
At November 19, 2009 at 11:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

IT MUST HAVE BEEN REALLY A VERY ODORVENTUROUS EXPERIENCE FOR YOU!

 
At November 21, 2009 at 2:54 PM , Blogger janay said...

good....................................................................................................

 
At November 22, 2009 at 11:08 PM , Blogger Singapore Fountain Pen said...

Hi Brad,

Long comment too! Thanks!

Yes, I agree that it's so easy to distinguish between a person who's worked under the sun during the day and one who doesn't practice good hygiene. Why that is, I don't know but I would love to find out. I am as curious about it as I am agitated enough to think of solutions. Well, I try to make it funny too so that I don't go crazy thinking about something which should be trivial.

I can relate to your experience because I had to come out of the MRT too only to board the same train on a different car just to avoid undesirable smell.

I agree too about too many people riding the trains and buses here that don't bathe too often. As for the trains in Manila, yes, you'd really have to be very unlucky to come across someone with body odor. It's one of those places I was referring to where people with body odor are ostracized.

 

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