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].