Why Are American Girls So Smelly?

Billy asked me this question the other day. 

He continued by telling me that he and his friends in Guatemala had often wondered because they would see girls with ratty hair and smelly clothes, and they just didn’t understand.  They eventually just assumed that American girls weren’t really into hygiene. 

Hmmm…. after (subtly) sniffing myself, I gave it some thought. 

Then it hit me… missions trips. 

Everyone I know that has participated in a missions trip has usually been to Guatemala.  In fact, since I’m friends with so many missions-minded folks, it’s uncanny how many people meet Billy and know his home country. 

And it seems to me that a lot of missions trips stories involve some sort of fantastical bragging about how many days people went without showering.  It has never occurred to me (or probably to them) that people who live in these countries and shower daily may have questions about this practice.

I can say that several years ago I lived in Guatemala for one month to (try to) learn Spanish.  I showered once every three days, which was completely in contradiction to my daily showering habits in the States.

My excuse?

Electric shower heads.

I couldn’t figure it out.  You had to turn it on hard enough so that the lights flickered, meaning that the electric heater had kicked on to warm the water.  But turn it on too strong, and there’s too much water to warm, making it cold again.

I absolutely could not master this skill.  And how many times can you ask your host family (in broken Spanish) to come into the bathroom with you to “help you” before it becomes awkward?  (I decided two.)

So I took a freezing cold shower once every three days.  This also eventually led to me being reprimanded for washing my hair in a natural hot spring.  I know… embarrassing… I was just so happy to have hot water… that’s not a good excuse, I realize… just an explanation.

So this is my response to the question “Why are American girls so smelly?”  Have another one?  Do your showering frequencies change when traveling abroad?    


  1. hahaha i would shower like once a week in peru because of that darn electric shower head i would get shocked every time...and ya so then it would just be cold. my teammates and i would always have to talk ourselves into it for awhile before we actually went in. it was pretty funny. but good perspective from the other side of that. never really thought about it before.

  2. I have definitely shocked myself... not cool! :)

  3. that's funny! never thought about that factor when on mission trips. I'm curious as to what other observations your hubby has.

  4. jodylouise4:42 PM

    When I taught English in West Africa, my students wanted to know why the Americans always dressed so poorly. "We watch your movies. We know you dress better than that in your country," they'd observe. "Do you think we will ruin your clothes?"

    It was a sobering lesson for me on respecting others with my appearance. Now, when I pack for trips to the developing world, I take more care to make sure I bring clothes that reflect my value for the culture. I suppose it's a bit different with work trips, but I do think Americans could stand to consider what their appearance communicates when we travel to other places whether it be the frequency of our showers, quality of our clothes, or length of our shorts :)

  5. Ouch! That's a powerful example. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Our appearance has the ability to communicate respect and we should consider how to do so when traveling to others' homes. Thanks for adding to the conversation!


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