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20-40-60 Etiquette---You smell terrible!

To ask an etiquette question, email




By Calllie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: I was on a trip to Australia and took the bus to one of the points of interest. One woman who sat next to me reeked of offensive body odor. What should I have done? Another time I was on an airplane and the same thing happened. The person next to me should have used deodorant before he traveled. In close quarters, it seems to me that everyone should be cognizant that they should at least be clean. Any ideas?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: UGH! This is one thing that REALLY BUGS me. I bring a nice smelling spray with me when I travel. I spray it all around me, anything is better smelling than BO.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Oh, yuck. I can imagine how horrible that smell in tight quarters was, where you couldn’t move away from it. However, even though the other travelers’ lack of hygiene affected you and the people around you, there’s not much you can do about it. Whether you wear deodorant or not or bathe every day, like most Americans do, is a matter of personal preference, culture, access to soap and clean water to take showers, a long day of traveling or maybe even an unknown medical condition. You don’t know the circumstances that led to it. If you encounter that again and can change seats without making a scene, then do so. Unfortunately, you probably have to live with it. While it’s too bad that other people’s body odor or lack of cleanliness is causing discomfort, and many of us can empathize with you, you could pass the time by consciously empathizing with them and trying to understand a little bit more about their world.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Odor of any kind bothers me in close quarters, even perfume if it is too strong. One friend of mine who was traveling in a car threw up when she encountered the strong perfume of one of the other passengers. Be aware of others when traveling.

Travel with and use a light scent of air freshener or cleansing towelettes if necessary. You can always ask for a seat change.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Clytie Bunyan, director of Business and Lifestyles for The Oklahoman: You have to remember when you’re traveling outside the U.S. that customs and practices are different than those to which you are accustomed. As someone who grew up in the Caribbean, it was not unusual for me to travel on the bus from school with people coming from the bush after a long day of labor, with their tools and produce, or others carrying boxes of groceries that you had to step over. On one visit to another island, there were all manner of livestock among the passengers on a bus to the countryside. You simply cannot risk offending people while abroad by turning up your nose or commenting for others to hear that you think they smell unpleasant. The situation is temporary, so instead take time to strike up a conversation and learn something about how those people live.

But I sympathize with you on the flight experience. That’s a big pet peeve of mine. People seem to think that because they pay their money they can travel any way they feel, with complete disregard for all the other travelers who also paid to be in that enclosed space. Comfort is important when traveling, but a person is plain nasty or lacking in class if they don’t wash up before getting on a plane.

Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. 

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Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›

Lillie-Beth Brinkman

Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman Read more ›

Callie Athey

Callie Athey is 20-something and is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in various positions, ranging from Event Coordinator to Environmental Health and Safety Assistant. Currently, Callie is an Executive Assistant to a... Read more ›