Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.
Q.: Karen, I am a police officer (not in Indiana) with a great partner. However, he has terrible body odor. Some days, it is a little overpowering in the car. Of course, there are days when we have had to do a lot of physical work, like searching old, dirty, hot houses, that we both need a shower, but he starts the day smelling bad. What is the best way to handle this situation? Is it rude for me to tell him how he smells?
A.: Telling someone that they have an issue with their personal hygiene, or lack there of, is always tricky, but sometimes these issues need to be addressed, especially if it is interfering with your comfort, day in and day out. And, in the end, you may be doing the man a big favor.
You could flip it to your human resources department (sorry, HR departments) or a supervisor, but if you have a good relationship with your partner, it may be better to address the issue yourself. He may get more offended hearing it secondhand instead of from you. So, I would politely tell the man he has body odor and he may need to pay more attention to using deodorant and/or washing his clothes.
The American culture is known and sometimes mocked for our attention to personal cleanliness. Personally, I don't find that a negative. But other cultures and some individuals don't pay as much attention to personal hygiene as most Americans do.
It's not enough to bathe daily and use deodorant; we need to change our clothes regularly. Putting on the same shirt from the day before after you have chased someone down the street in a dead run is not a good idea, even if you have showered and used deodorant.
Most people, especially in the summer, need to change the clothes closest to their body every day. Outer garments, like blazers and jackets, don't always get as soiled as our shirts. But it is important to check.
Here are some tips we all need to pay attention to so we don't offend our co-workers and our friends who are close:
•Shower daily and use deodorant. In the heat of summer or after working out, some people may need to bathe or shower more than once a day, especially if you are going out in the evening.
•Change your shirt daily. If you find yourself questioning whether you can wear something twice, don't wear it. When in doubt, leave it in the dirty clothes.
•Wear an undershirt. It will wick up some of the perspiration.
•Have an extra clean shirt handy at work. If you find you have broken through your deodorant, you can make a quick change. And keep some deodorant in your desk drawer for a refresh under your arms.
•Do the sniff test. If you are not sure how you smell, find a private place and take a sniff of your under arms. You may get a surprise.
•Be attentive to your clothes in the winter months, too. We usually wear wool clothes more than once before having them cleaned, but underarm smells can linger in wool sweaters and become noticeable when you get into a warm room and bodies heat up. Again, do the sniff test.
•Ask for help if you have a limited sense of smell, or you are not sure about how something smells. Better to be safe than offensive.
A little extra attention to your personal hygiene goes a long way – for everyone.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll forward it to her.