Body odor change traveling India

A Body Odor Essay

As you know from my previous post, I am now living in India. I have been here for about 2 weeks now and, although I already have many stories to tell, I’ll start with one that stinks!

Yes, this is a post about body odor!


While I was working in Dubai, I have many times heard comments on how Indians smell. In fact, I have heard the expression “little onion” referering to an Indian person, or even just brown people in general. Could have been Bangladeshi, Pakistani… who knows! Although they hate if people mix them up, the truth is that the world tends to put them all under the same category. Some might even say “the curry eaters”. In Dubai, I did come across and worked with several Indians that did in fact have an attention attracting body odor, but I always thought that with the tremendous heat they used to endure, they would naturally sweat and, of consequently, smell. I mean, those laborers who carry materials all day long under 45C weather are not going to smell like roses by the end of the day, are they?!

Who smells good working 12 hours a day under the sun?! NO ONE does!

Who smells good working 12 hours a day under the sun?! NO ONE does!


Putting brown people aside for a moment, let’s focus on black people. When I first told Ashray in Portuguese we have a world to describe the smell of black people he immediately thought we’re damn racists. I guess the colonial past doesn’t help this argument either…. Anyway, the case is that we say black people smell of “catinga”. Catinga basically stands for the strong body odor of a black person.

Do do black people smell?

Why do black people smell?


And what about us whites?! Don’t we smell?! I decided to research this and came across some interesting posts on the internet that suggested white people smell like “wet dog”! And apparently we do smell more than East Asians too!

So apparently white people smell of wet dog or, even better (!), dead animals.

So apparently white people smell of wet dog or, even better, dead animals!


It’s not the first time I think about body odor and about how it is socially perceived – don’t judge me! We all have our hobbies and interests and turns out smells and poop stories are some of mine!

After a couple of days in India, stripping myself of my Miami Ink t-shirt I felt an Indian scent in the air. My nose naturally went on a research mission and approached the fabric that corresponds to the area underneath my arm pit. And it turns out Miami Ink smelt like curry!!! Do I stink?! I’m not sure if I could call it a stench as such, but it was definitely not my usual body odor. Yes, the one that smells of red carnations, as I am Portuguese after all.

Curry is all around us!...

Curry is all around us!…


I had been eating exclusively Indian food for a couple of days in a row and the new diet did affect my smell. It was not one of those “I can’t stay inside a lift with you” sort of smells, but there was definitely a light scent of curried Zara attached to my t-shirt. I have been dating an Indian man for years and he has never smelt like that – why was I smelling of curry?! Was I becoming brown already?!

Spices come in... and spices must come out!

Spices come in… and spices must come out!


One can only conclude that smells are a very subjective thing. I have read that some races are more prone to body odor than others, as the sweating glands do act differently for different races. But one thing is to sweat (in whatever proportion you might sweat) and another thing would be for your sweat to smell of one specific thing or another, more or less strongly. My own spontaneous research proves that your smell would depend greatly on your food intake.

There's a logical explanation behind most things in life...

There's a logical explanation behind most things in life…


Here I am, with this white face like Casper,

smelling like a stereotypical Indian person would!


About a week has elapsed since I first smelt some masala on me. Although I did smell differently for a couple of days, my odor is back to normal now – yes, my green field full of flowers blossoming under the sun scent is back! I have been eating Indian food ever since but I guess my body must have regulated itself somehow and there is no particularly Indian scent no more – believe me, I have more than my nose to attest for this!


And what’s the point of this ramble about sweat

and stinks, you might be thinking?!


Well, I meant to open up your mind (and nose) for the fact that anyone can smell at any given point of time  - even if they bathe and use good smelling products! We’re not discussing the cases that happen due to lack of bathing, ’cause if we were to dig into lack of hygiene in this post, that’d be a whole different story. Perhaps we might all smell more than we think and different people can actually feel it even if we don’t. We might be desensitized for the smell of others around us being from our same race or with same eating habits as us and find other people do smell, when maybe amongst themselves they don’t actually find that same smell to be unpleasant.

So smell based racism is not justified (not that any other type of racism is, by the way) and should be frowned upon.

She probably smells like wet dog anyway...

She probably smells like wet dog anyway…


Also, I take the opportunity to share with you that Dove deo for sensitive skin does not do its best job in India – you need something more hardcore!

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  • Agness Says

    This article is actually reminding me of my stay in China. Chinese didn’t care about their body and hygiene at all so they smelled a lot. I was pretty hard or nearly impossible to find a deodorant there.

  • Mr S Says

    As an Indian man looking for a nice non-smelling women, where do I go? Looks like that’s the reason I am single. They either stink of body odour or deo mixed with body odour. And why the hell do they get offended when gifted a room freshener? I might have casually mentioned that it can be used as deo as well. So what?
    Anyway I am done living here. Thinking about moving to China. Apparently, concept of deo is non-existant there. I could fool a local Chinese woman into believing a room freshener to be a deo. She would be the love of my life. I would call her Jasmine. What do you say?

  • gopxi Says

    This blog made me laugh, not only because I agree but also because is written in such a light view… i have always thought that we exude what we eat. So it does not surprise me that your shirt smell like curry… but I think that we all smell. the problem is that we get used to our own “scent”. I get that your boyfriend does not smell I have dated a Bangladeshi and I he did not smell. his body odor is different from my usual Mexican friends but it did not stink or smell like curry/masala..
    i guess like you i only have issues with people that smell because of lack or hygiene. other than that.. I’m cool
    By the way I really like you blog.. so I’m definitely going to start following you

    • Zara Says

      Thanks Gopxi!

      That’s exactly what I meant: smells because of environment, eating habits and the likes… all good! Whenever it has to do with lack of hygiene… nah, nooo good!! :)

      Welcome on board! :)

  • Inês Says

    Que dia tão bom!Descobrir este espacinho..
    Enquanto me movimentava pela Escócia, ouvi um comentário em relação ao cheiro dos portugueses, dizem que tresandámos a refogado!hehehehe
    YEah, refogado smell!!

    • Zara Says

      Obrigada Ines!! :)
      Refogado?? Nunca tal tinha ouvido!
      Tao ou mais apetitoso que caril!! :D hahaa..

  • Mariya Says

    Our apartment definitely used to smell very Indian because of all the Indian food I made. There is no way to avoid smelling like spices if you make Indian food, but it’s delicious. And I am not Indian :)

  • carolina Says

    Body hodor is also related to DNA. I havent use deodorant in my life cause I don’t produce any body odor, and no one believes me when I say I dont use it at all. As far as I know, most asians don’t have body odor, like japanese. I have read how hard is to find deodorant there, and to be honest, I never felt any smell that I dislike, and I am really complicated with those things. I temp to choose people by how the smell actually, and so far, if I have to point any “race” that i consider have a natural body odor that I cant be around, are actually white people.

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