Personal Hygiene & Cultural Differences

by Ray Ray Montoya
International travelers are advised to bring their own towels and toilet paper.

International travelers are advised to bring their own towels and toilet paper.

Most cultures value personal hygiene, but personal hygiene means different things throughout the world. Americans may assume that bathrooms have towels and toilet paper, while other nationalities see travelers as being responsible for their own supplies. In many cultures, body odor is offensive, but some see it as natural. When interacting with different cultures, it is important to avoid assumptions. Rather, become informed about foreign expectations regarding cleanliness and etiquette.

Provisions

It's best to bring your own supplies for personal hygiene if you are going to travel extensively. For example, the website for Start Adventure, an Indian travel agency that sells train tickets and related packages, suggests travelers bring toilet paper as it is "not available easily on the trains."

Body Odor

Attitudes toward body odor vary. In some parts of the world, it is considered acceptable to forgo deodorant or to shower less than once a day. Conversely, people who are not averse to bodily smells have to adjust their behavior when abroad. For example, Living American, a website detailing American culture, notes "Americans have been taught that the natural smells of their body and breath are unpleasant. Most Americans bathe daily, use an underarm deodorant to counteract the odor of perspiration, and brush their teeth with toothpaste at least once daily and usually more than that ..."

Public Behavior

Cultures have different attitudes regarding public behavior and personal hygiene. Attitudes vary on the polite and hygienic way to eat food, spitting in public or otherwise attending to bodily functions. The Scottish newspaper "Daily Record" writes, "It's best not to blow your nose in front of others right across the East from China to Malaysia -- especially at mealtimes. Spitting is much more acceptable. In China, people happily spit out bones on the tablecloth during meals."

Hair

Hair care is an important part of personal hygiene. Living American anticipates that some immigrants have to take a more active approach to hair care, advising that "Hair should be washed at least twice a week and not look greasy." Many Americans have very particular standards regarding female body hair and "any hint of body hair is considered highly unattractive. Wax or shave hair under the armpits, on the legs and the upper lip and face."

About the Author

Ray Ray Montoya is the son of two English majors and has himself followed suit. He received his bachelor's degree from Northern Michigan University in 2006 and two years later received his M.A. from the same institution. He currently teaches at a community college in Michigan and writes for various websites.

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