Living in New York, this is just something that I absolutely have to address: subway body odor etiquette.
Picture it: you’re on the train during the morning commute. You are hoping for a relatively easy ride while you get your mind together before a day of work, daydreaming about the morning latte you will pick up on your way. You are lost in thought as the music in your earphones pounds away when suddenly, it hits you: the pungent, unmistakable smell of body odor.
Your heart starts to quicken as you look around and realize that the car is too packed for you to try to escape the smell. Besides, you have no idea where it might be coming from: could it be the slightly overweight man sitting on the seat in front of you? The young woman and her daughter holding onto the pole next to you? Or the grungy teenager leaning against the door who looks like he hasn’t showered in days?
This is, unfortunately, a more than common occurrence for me on the subway. And when it happens, there are two disturbing things I’ve noticed other subway riders do when the train odor is so putrid that it’s unmistakable that every person smells it, and both are attempts at some type of etiquette or politeness. The first is when people try to discreetly place their hand under their nose as if they are embarrassed to admit that they, too, notice the horribly strong odor in the air. The second is when people sit there going about their lives, acting as though the smell in the air isn’t making their eyes tear and prompting their gag reflexes.
Why are these two choices of action by commuters disturbing to me? Because HELLO!? If you don’t make your distaste and uncomfortableness known, then the culprit of the body odor will never realize that they either need to a) take a long, thorough shower b) wear some much stronger deodorant or c) perhaps not wear the same shirt 5 days in a row. So what do I do when I smell some horribly strong B.O. on the train? I dramatically cough and wave my hand in front of my face and plug my nose with two fingers, because these actions will help the B.O. perpetrator realize that they need to take some immediate action. It will hopefully open their eyes to the notion that their despicable personal hygiene is offensive to the people in society, especially in a city where people are constantly trapped together in small spaces as they try to get from Point A to Point B.
If one person sees the people around them all obviously smell something terrible, and that person doesn’t smell anything bad themselves, then perhaps they will take a minute to think about the fact that it could be them, which will hopefully prompt them to head to the nearest Duane Reade immediately and pick-up some extra personal hygiene tools.