Personal hygiene & cultural differences

Written by ray ray montoya
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Personal hygiene & cultural differences
International travellers are advised to bring their own towels and toilet paper. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

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 travellers as being responsible for their own supplies. In many cultures, body odour 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.

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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 travellers bring toilet paper as it is "not available easily on the trains."

Body Odor

Attitudes toward body odour 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 behaviour 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 odour 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 behaviour 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 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."

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