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…