Aug 8, 2015 - WHY EUROPEANS HAD THE HISTORICAL GLOBAL REPUTATION FOR BEING THE MOST UNHYGIENIC PEOPLE ON EARTH by Damon Corri
Queen Victoria, we look at her as being ‘upper class royalty’ but truth is – she was STINK because she rarely took a bath (all year round – in case you want to use ‘cold Winters’ as an excuse…as if the Queen would not be able to have warm water 100 times a day if she ordered it) , preferring to cover up her sour milk smell with perfume, so a ‘lower class primitive’ in the jungles of Africa or the Amazon smelled better and was MORE hygienic than ANY ‘Royal’ in Europe in these times – as the ‘primitives’ bathed TWICE a day!
I have YET to obtain a satisfactory explanation as to why Europeans in general were historically THE most unsanitary peoples to be found in recorded human history….so called ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ Amerindians in general (for example) ALWAYS bathed at least TWICE per day from ancient times to the present day.
I heard the excuse ‘oh it was too cold in Europe that’s why’…..but unless you are talking about some Ice Age where no spring, summer or fall existed – you are talking CRAP! Europe has hot summers so where was the ‘too cold’ excuse for all the non-winter months? GREENLAND is in the Arctic Circle (colder than England ever will be) and yet when I was there the local Inuit people were bathing twice a day in COLD water (our dorm had no heated water) just like me.
This takes us back to this often promulgated ‘White God’ MYTH Europeans still convince themselves of, when in fact the FIRST recorded impressions that Amerindians from North America to South America had of their first contact with European men was that ‘Europeans smell bad and have hairy faces like dogs’…so much for the ‘white Gods’ fairy tale.
Europeans just had better weapons and Armour to protect themselves, big hunting dogs and horses – but MOST importantly (for the Europeans) they had DISEASES that Amerindians had no immunity to – which killed 90% of the Amerindian population of the Americas (which WAS 100 million Amerindians in 1492) before any European had to fire a single shot…your diseases is what allowed you to conquer the New World, don’t fool yourself.
Read the book ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’ to understand the truth much better.
My father even recalls his shock a mere 65 years ago in England when he went there from the Caribbean (where he was accustomed to bathing twice a day) to do a two year course of studies – and he was told that ‘his day to bathe was on Friday’ by the English landlord…my dad had to offer to pay him an extra 2 shillings a day to be allowed to bathe daily, but the other English lads had no problem with a once per week bath – and that is not some hundred years ago phenomenon, that was just in the 1950’s.
It boggles my mind how a person such as the famous ‘Cassanova’ could POSSIBLY have existed in Europe before they learned to be hygienic and bathe AT LEAST once a day as I HOPE they do now. I can’t imagine ever wanting to be sexually promiscuous in ‘olden days’ Europe with the kinds of sights and smells that would accost me every time I ‘peered into a woman’s privacy’…no wonder so many people joined Abbeys and Monasteries!
Sex must have been a very nasty undertaking indeed.
Here are some interesting facts you should know that explains why Europeans historically had the worldwide reputation of being the dirtiest people on Earth :
“The thought of a daily shower would have filled the 17th century Frenchman with fear. To splash away with abandon, to open your pores and ‘leave your body vulnerable to all that disease’ (as he imagined), would be practically asking to get sick. In fact, our bathing habits would have disgusted him, much like his habits disgust us: never washing his body with water or soap, for instance. Or changing his linen shirt to get clean.
How cleanliness has changed in the West is the engrossing (and sometimes gross) subject of Katherine Ashenburg‘s “The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History,” which skates merrily from ancient frolics at the public baths to today’s obsession with hand sanitizer and teeth-whitening strips.
Salon spoke with Ashenburg by phone from her office in Toronto.
What did clean mean in ancient Rome?
If you were a man, you would take off all your clothes, put a little oil on your body, rub it with dust and go out into the playing field to work up a sweat. Then you would get somebody to scrape off your perspiration with an instrument that looks like a little tiny rake, called a strigil. Then you would get into a tepid bath, then into a really hot bath, then into a cold bath.
You never used any soap, and it was all done in public. If you were just a normal person, you’d probably spend a couple of hours every day in the bathhouse, where you could get wine, food, sex, a medical treatment, a haircut. You could have a depilator pluck the hair in your armpits.
Why wasn’t soap popular?
Soap was a combination of animal fat and lye. The Egyptians went to great lengths to make a soap that was mild enough to use on bodies, but many cultures, including the Romans and Greeks, didn’t really. So they scraped themselves. Basically, it was a kind of drastic exfoliation. They probably got as clean as soap makes you. Most people, except very rich people, didn’t use soap until about the second half of the 19th century.
Why did public baths go out of fashion?
They went out of fashion because the infrastructure to run them — the mechanisms that brought them water, that heated their water, that separated out the different heats of the various pools — required an enormously sophisticated and complicated infrastructure, which the Roman Empire had. But when the empire started to fall apart, people couldn’t maintain that, and the invading barbarians disabled the aqueducts. There was never an empire large enough to support that again.
How have attitudes about cold versus hot water for bathing changed over the centuries?
They haven’t changed much. One of the most wonderful, long-lasting, historical continuities is the people who support cold-water bathing, who think it’s virile and virtuous, versus the people who want to bathe in warm or hot water. They don’t attach any moral significance to their choice of warm or hot water. They just think it’s way more comfortable, and easier, to clean yourself in warm or hot water. There’s a German expression, Warmduscher, “warm showerer,” which is one of the ways you describe a man who is short on masculinity. I just love it that these two camps have been going for centuries.
We all know the saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but there was a time when quite the opposite was true. Could you talk about that?
Christianity turns out to be the only great world religion — great in the sense of widespread and influential — that had no teaching or interest in hygiene. In the early years of the church, the holier you were, the less you wanted to be clean. Cleanliness was kind of a luxury, like food, drink and sex, because cleanliness was comfortable and attractive. The holier you were — and this really applied to monks and hermits and saints — the less you would wash. And the more you smelled, the closer to God people thought you were.
So then did Buddhists and Muslims think Christians were filthy?
Absolutely. And they were right, too.
And didn’t Westerners have a reputation among Asians for being filthy?
Yes. They probably were, relatively speaking, compared to affluent Chinese and to Japanese people of every class. One of the reasons may have been the influence of Christianity. Europe suffered this hiatus in cleanliness for about four or five centuries. When the great plagues came, the Black Death, in the 14th century, the king of France asked the medical faculty at the Sorbonne in Paris, “What is causing this hideous plague that is killing one out of every three Europeans, and what can we do to prevent it?” And the doctor said the people who were at risk for getting the plague had opened their pores in warm or hot water, in the baths, and they were much more susceptible.
So in France and England and most European countries, for about five centuries, people really believed that it was very, very dangerous to get in water, and this only really broke down in the 19th century. There was nothing like this, nothing corresponded to that belief, in Asia or in India, so they had an unbroken tradition of cleanliness. They also had religions, like Islam and Hinduism, that took cleanliness very seriously, which Christianity never did.
Why did a 17th century Frenchman think that changing his linen shirt was the path to cleanliness?
In my childhood, there were laundry soap advertisements that talked about ring around the collar. For us, that just meant your clothes were dirty, and you needed to wash them. But the 17th century looked at the ring around your cuffs and your collar and thought linen was like a wick that drew out the dirt. They really thought, not only was it safer to change your linen shirt, but it actually cleaned you better. They thought the flax in the linen exerted some kind of magnetic attraction to the sweat and drew it out of your body.
So they must have smelled terrible.
They must have smelled terrible. But the ocean in which they swam was the odor of rank sweat, or fresh sweat. So I think they were quite used to it. In the Middle Ages, St. Bernard said, “We all stink. No one smells.” I think that sums up their tolerance for it.
We had an enormous tolerance for cigarette smoke 20 years ago. Every indoor space was filled with it. I never smoked, but I never noticed it particularly. Now, I actually checked into a hotel room on a smoking floor by mistake last week in Montreal, and I thought it was the worst thing ever. But 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have even noticed it.
What was the role of perfume?
During the 17th century, which I think was probably the dirtiest century in Western history, people put on perfume so they wouldn’t smell their neighbors. For example, Madame de Montespan, one of Louis XIV’s mistresses, swathed herself in clouds of self-defensive perfume so that she wouldn’t smell the king’s halitosis. She didn’t like the way he smelled, and he hated the way she smelled, because perfume gave him headaches. They had a great big fight about it one day in his coach, where they were also accompanied by his queen, his legal wife, and this was recorded by one of his memoirists.
So you wore perfume to keep from smelling other people?
That’s right. I never came across an instance of somebody saying they were wearing it because they were worried about how they smelled.”
* Extracted sent to me from an internet article by someone else *