Old Spice not nice?

It seems like everyday I am here in Daegu, Korea I learn something new about the culture. Yesterday, late afternoon  while teaching  one of my lower level classes I ascertained, quite emphatically, that Koreans do not wear deodorant.  This discovery was not made by detecting a pungent odor, but rather through the unambiguous suffering of my students.

Early in the class, I noticed something very strange. Pizza Pan (this is the English name he chose) a normally outspoken, disruptive student was curiously subdued. Normally, he finds it difficult to resist chatting with others, yelling out random things about killing and death, and staying in his seat. On this day he was in noticeable discomfort. Later on I noticed a few students covering their noses as I walked by. Some appeared  gasping for fresh air. I thought perhaps one of their peers was breaking wind or someone was emitting  unsavory body odor. Then suddenly, as I leaned closer to field a question for a student, Pizza Pan burst out:

“Teacha you not smell good!”

Perplexed, I made a mental checklist in my head:

Showered today – check

Clean clothes – check

brand new deodorant – check

body spray – check

Laughing, I tried to explain that I practiced good hygiene and even attempted to explain the concept of deodorant and that I was in fact wearing Old Spice High Endurance.

“Too much teacha, too much!”

The rest of the class moaned in agony and I stood there hands on hips trying to justify myself.

I smelled myself and assured Pizza Pan and the rest that I smelled fresh. But, the more I wasted my breath explaining the more they objected and the more I laughed. At one point I even tried to convince some students to get a whiff of my pits and they scattered like exposed  frightened sea crabs. Eventually, I conceded and opened  the windows and the door to circulate the room with fresh air. After class I walked to the teacher’s office in defeat and explained to a coworker what happened and he said that he had a similar experience one time from wearing after shave. I still needed further reassurance so I asked a Korean teacher if people here used deodorant. She laughed and said it was very uncommon.

I guess from now on I will put the deodorant and body spray on the shelf and only use it during times I am not teaching. We’ll see if my natural body odor is less offensive to my students than long-lasting odor protection. In American culture, people are so accustomed to smelling body fragrances that when you don’t wear anything at all you run the risk of turning people off. Here, artificial scents are apparently less desirable. Either that or I just need a better smelling deodorant.

If nothing else, this bit of insight will  come in handy for disciplinary purposes  the next time Pizza Pan gets too far out of line – if he thought a few layers spread on my arm pit was too much to handle imagine how he will feel with the entire stick of deodorant pressed close to his nose [evil laugh].


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  1. #1 by A Korean college student on October 28, 2010 - 4:43 pm

    Quite interesting. Sometimes I can eh, smell waygooks from a distance, but the stuff you guys wear has never offended me, olfactory-wise. Seems to me that the children have a keener sense of smell regardless of race; I had a similar experience when I wore Banana Republic eau de colon. Kids absolutely HATED it.

    Old Spice used to be my favorite after shave but I can also tell you from my personal experience that it is not a popular brand here. I read somewhere that it once was an almost-symbol of clean-cut and better-smelling GIs during and after the WWII. European girls, unlike Koreans, obviously loved it.

    Anyhow, I’m wearing Fahrenheit these days, which is for some reason dubbed “Ajosshi’s Perfume.” I like it, though. -_-

  2. #2 by Daniel Martin Katz on October 28, 2010 - 5:41 pm

    Hey, thanks for the history lesson on Old Spice. Forgive me if my story REEKED of ignorance. I presumed “Koreans do not wear deodorant” based on the reaction of my students and after asking several Korean coworkers. Is it more common than I thought?

    If you are finding Fahrenheit suitable and agreeable among the Korean girls, perhaps I will invest. My all-time favorite cologne is Armani Code. Unfortunately, on a wet, sad night it was stolen out of my car that was parked outside of my apartment. The burglar didn’t bother taking my Ipod, but my Code was gone…

  3. #3 by intrepidtraveller on November 3, 2010 - 4:37 pm

    Haha Brilliant. A friend of mine teaching in Ilsan experienced something similar..he was wearing Lynx though! Can’t believe you have a student called Pizza pan?? Did he mistake it for peter pan or what?? Hilarious!

    • #4 by Daniel Martin Katz on November 3, 2010 - 5:37 pm

      Hey, Janet – I am relieved that I’m not alone in this regard.

      Funny you mention that … recently I called him Peter Pan (for obvious reasons) and I got a very emotional reaction from him. After some thorough investigation on my part, it turns out that the origin of his given English name is in fact Peter Pan … apparently dissatisfied* with this name and realizing how outlandish Pizza Pan is he decided to change it to the latter. And so the legend of Pizza Pan was born.

      *While flipping through the pages of the reading workbook for this beginner level class I noticed an early unit featuring Peter Pan. My theory is that Pizza Pan saw what the character Peter Pan was all about and was none to happy – I don’t really blame him – green tights and a feather cap could ruin the reputation of any pre-adolescent.

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