Stinky worker…ignore or approach?

I am still a little shocked from the reactions during a conversation with an English friend this weekend. We were having breakfast at a restaurant in Oxford when I got up to go to the toilet (no TMI story here, folks). As I walked past a waiter I entered a small, poignant fog of body odor. I hate bad smells. Body odor takes the award for THE worst. I think I have such an adverse reaction because I grew up poor (so clean equated to respectability in our home) and was raised that cleanliness is close to godliness…yada yada yada. So it was beyond me that this waiter was allowed to work in an eating establishment when he stinks! I said as much when I returned to the table and my friend was taken aback. She didn’t see a solution to the problem while I did. I explained to her that in many American employee handbooks there’s a hygiene rule and an employee shouldn’t be surprised if he or she is asked to go home and sort themselves out if they aren’t following the rules. I might as well had said that the employee was sent home for being disabled or something, her reaction was that full of shock.

She said, “We’re English, we don’t do that here.”

Determined for her to see things my way I gave her an example using her job. “But what if your secretary took up a habit of not washing and continued to greet all the clients. What would you do if they came to you offended by her body odor?”

“But that wouldn’t happen. We’re English. We wouldn’t say anything.”

And it was that statement that made me understand why I often smell stinky well-dressed people in all sorts of places: behind the till, in a bank, on line at the store, and in the tube. Everyone is too polite to say anything.

So I will continue to carry on because when in Rome…

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This entry was published on 09/03/2011 at 9:43 AM. It’s filed under life, London and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

9 thoughts on “Stinky worker…ignore or approach?

  1. Oy, I think this takes politeness too far … surely the smelly person does not *want* to offend people’s senses? And may even be embarressed to know they have been and would like the chance to correct it?

    There is a fine line in politeness … on one side is kindness, on the other a kind of cruelty.

  2. I agree with Lindsay, but maybe I’m biased since I’m American. So, I’ll take on the food-handling aspect of things. Odor really is a sign of biological brewings, so to speak. And sanitation is a big part of making sure your food is handled properly. How can the restaurant know that it is handling food safely if there is no expectation of employee cleanliness?

    I’m with you on the smell thing. ewww

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! That was G’s comment as well. How can you trust someone to be hygienic around your food if they are not hygienic with themselves?

      Well…living here you have to relax a bit when it comes to food & hygiene: milk left on counters, bakery goods exposed with no covers, food handlers not wearing gloves, and more. I turn a blind eye to those but not the smelly server. I can’t.

  3. So, are they more prudish when it comes to sex and the naked body as well or are they more ‘European’ in that sense than the US is? I know a lot of European’s don’t wear deoderant (I mean, outside the US I don’t think it’s as frowned upon to be stinky…is it?) But yeah, I just don’t see how you can NOT wear it when it’s available for you to not stink up the place. They must realize they stink – there is just no shame associated with it there I guess because no one says anything (even though they are all thinking it!).

    • They are more European. Not prudish when it comes to sex and modesty. At least, not as prudish as us.

      BO seems to just be tolerated. Better to suffer than to offend someone by telling them they are offending you? I don’t get it.

  4. hmmm…would it be rude to spray them with disinfectant spray? Or would that also be crossing a line? =P

  5. Oy. I’m having trouble with the balancing ‘local culture’ and ‘holy crap take a bath and put on some deoderant’!

    Seriously, that is not ok!!!

  6. Ugh, this is one of my major bugbears. English people seem to proud that they no longer bathe only once a year and are now up to once a week! I sit between two colleagues that really smell come summer. Sweat, mustiness, plain old dirtiness. Yuck.

    And don’t get me started about people on the train…

    Here they see it as environmental, whereas I have grown up to know cleanliness as godliness, like you, and also that cleaning equates to self-love.

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