Why don’t French people wear deodorant?



(asked by David L. from Miami)

Ask a FrenchmanThis is one of the very first posts from the original Ask a Frenchman blog that I’m republishing here today.

It was from a series of very stereotypical questions that my friend David L. from Miami had asked me partly as a joke, partly as help to launch the blog.

So, why don’t French people wear deodorant?

Truth is, that to my knowledge most French people do wear deodorant.
I won’t say that everybody does, that would be a lie, but most urban people do.

I know, if you’ve been to Paris at some point in your life and you’ve taken the metro, especially during rush hour, you may have had an unpleasant encounter – especially if you’re short – with a stinky armpit.
But it’s more the exception than the norm.
However, I must admit that some French deodorants are a bit weak (especially when you compare to the hardcore ones that can be found in Florida for example – they need to be very strong over there) and at the end of a hot busy day, if you had to wear a jacket or so all day, deodorant or not, it may be a good idea to take a shower after work.

Now this question, which is a modernized version of the “French people don’t bathe” stereotype is a very interesting one in my opinion. As I’ve mentioned before, most stereotypes about France that one can find in the US (and later exported later to the rest of the English speaking world?) come from right after WWII when GIs were stationed in France. It was a time right after France had been occupied by Nazi Germany for four years, when everything was rationed and everybody was deprived of many things, and yes at that time it was more important to save the little water people had to drink and to cook rather than to bathe. Especially because most French houses didn’t have running water before the late 40’s if I’m not wrong.



About David Billa

David was born and raised in the French South West. After a few years in the US and a few more in Paris, he finally settled down in Japan. He blogs here about his various experiences and travels, with an emphasis on his home country, France.

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5 thoughts on “Why don’t French people wear deodorant?

  • Anna

    That’s funny! I hear that those comments about French not using deodorant or bathing fairly often. I know a lot of French people, and so far they are no stinkier than the rest of people I know. However, I have noticed the French men I hang out with tend to have bad breath. (I think too much wine, coffee, and not enough water are responsible.) That’s a romance killer!

  • Timothy

    I lived in France for years and I never thought people smelled bad. Yes, some people on the metro stink. So what. People stink on the NYC subway, the San Fran bart, and the Chicago “El.” And Paris does a much better job than NYC or Chicago at ensuring the entire city doesn’t smell like rotting garbage all summer long.
    I think the same people who ask if the French smell are the same folks who ask if French women have hairy armpits. Ugh. Enough.
    Nonetheless, I lament the current French trend of super-hygiene. The Parisians have become obsessed with hygiene to a degree it’s disappointing. I love ALL the smells of France. Whether it’s wine on the breath or a little sweat or magnificent parfums or cigarette smoke on the cafe terrace or the smell of fresh baked baguettes wafting from a boulangerie, France smells great! I was sad when the smoking ban went into effect simply because my favorite smell in the whole world was what one smelled upon arriving at Charles de Gualle: the smell of cigarettes and jet fuel. As soon as I would smell it, I’d think “I made it (to my adopted) home!”

  • Marty

    I am currently dating a French man, and I have to say, the armpit smell is real. I have to force him to do something about it. I have to put deodorant on him myself or complain to him. Almost all his clothing reek of body odor. He showers often and regularly, but an hour or so later, boom: Extremely smelly armpits. I care for this man very much, but my God…I guess he is used to it. When I go to Paris, I want to smell food, perfume, a misty morning in the alleys and streets, and freshly baked bread, perhaps some leather or clothing, not body odors I can smell every day at a gym. It’s an issue with Australian men I have met before, as well.

    • David Billa Post author

      ” I want to smell food, perfume, a misty morning in the alleys and streets, and freshly baked bread, perhaps some leather or clothing, not body odors.”

      In other words, you want your fantasized image of France / your relationship and not reality?

    • Anna

      I dated a French guy who refused to wear deodorant. It was all right sometimes, other times not. I bought him some essential oils to help. He liked the way it smelled and worked, but just didn’t want to bother in the end. I just lived with it. I admit that I had trouble with his breath. Happily, he worked on that. 🙂