It is an accepted dictum in modern medicine that the strongest mnemonic device out of all the 5 senses is the sense of smell. A whiff of the known and familiar could bring back a greater flood of memories than any sight, sound, taste, or tactile experience ever could. Warm pineapple and sugar reminds us of holidays back home. Grilled fish takes us back to barbecues by the sea with the family. The nose knows, it is said. Human beings in general are tenderly susceptible to the visceral and often jarring impacts of nose-stalgia.
Filipinos in particular are an olfactory sort. We spend a lot of time and money on ensuring that we smell good, or at the very least, that we don’t smell bad. According to Eden Strategy Institute’s Emerging Middle Class 2014 Survey, 4 out of 10 Filipinos cannot live without soap and shampoo. Personal hygiene figures highly in the Filipinos’ list of priorities, along with mobile phones and internet access. According to the report, most of us would rather forego health insurance and job security than lose our toiletries – in other words, it’s perfectly fine to be in the dirt, as long as our dirt doesn’t stink.
Our innate obsession with smelling good is hugely evident in Filipinos living in Middle Eastern countries. The sweltering heat of the Arabian peninsula offers the perfect environment for cultivating all sorts of maleficent odors, but amidst the stink clouds of hot acid and sulfur that urbanites have to contend with on a daily basis, the Filipinos manage to smell as fresh and dainty as young roses.
But what exactly is behind our propensity and dedication towards smelling good? What are the factors that define our relentlessly systemic approach to personal hygiene?
We have a few working theories.
1.) Filipinos generally don’t eat a lot of red meat.
Back home, beef is considered a premium item. Most of us grew up subsisting mostly on vegetables and white meats, with calderata and bulaloappearing only on the weekends or special occasions. Red meat is notoriously difficult to digest. Too much of it is likely to cause excessive perspiration and overproduction of surplus proteins and lipids, which can ultimately lead to body odor.
2.) Our food is not really all that spicy.
Compared to other cuisines, Filipino food is relatively rudimentary in terms of flavor compositions. We are comfort eaters, more than anything – we appreciate simplicity, heartiness, and sheer abundance in our food, with very little to almost no regard for flavor sets and textural diversity. Overloading on spices leads to excess sulfur in the body, which will eventually be eliminated through sweat and the breath.
3.) We’re all just water babies, really
The Filipinos come from a land that offers plenty of access to bodies of water. We have 7,107 islands – it would be safe to surmise that we also have around the same number of beaches, in addition to a stunning multitude lakes, rivers, brooks, and waterfalls. A typical Filipino family weekend getaway would be an afternoon outing at the beach. Filipinos just love water – a natural extension of which is that we love bathing. Other nationalities are even known to scoff at our insistence on taking daily baths. Imagine their consternation when they find out that some of us bathe twice a day – with plenty of “hilamos” and touch-ups in between.
4.) We tend to be overly conscious of other people’s opinions
Filipinos are very considerate and thoughtful – flip side of which is that we sometimes take self-consciousness to a ridiculous extreme. As a rule, we do not air our dirty laundry in public. We keep them locked up inside, and smother it with fragrances so the neighbors don’t notice. Our self-esteem tends to be heavily reliant on the opinion of others, so we go the extra length to make sure that we are pleasing in all respects, including the way we smell.
5.) We are sensitive of other people’s needs and comfort levels
It is often mentioned that we Filipinos are the preferred employees because of the level of loyalty and compassion that we are able to display through our diligence and hard work. The same can be said about our commitment towards maintaining a high degree of personal hygiene. It would be a matter of great tragedy for us to ruin another person’s day by walking into the room reeking of warm garbage. We take care of the way we smell mostly because it pleases us to please others.
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