When I was about fifteen, my family hosted a teacher from Japan as part of a student exchange program being run by my high school. As the youngest and most lowly member of the family, I was called upon to give up my bedroom for our honoured guest.
The first morning after his arrival, Mr Japanese-Teacher (not his real name) announced over breakfast that he had deduced the regular occupant of the room he’d been sleeping in. With a polite smile of triumph he indicated towards me.
This was hardly a feat to match Sherlock Holmes – I was one of only three children, and I’m pretty sure my name was plastered about my room in the usual territorial teenage ways – but we all raised our eyebrows in good-mannered surprise and asked how on earth he’d arrived at the correct conclusion.
To my absolute mortification (and to my family’s deep-seated mirth) he declared he could tell it was my room by its smell.
I was flummoxed. Had something perhaps been lost in translation? I may not have been the most tidy of teenagers, but let me state for the record that I kept up good habits in hygiene. It was never my custom to lather my sandwiches with garlic, crunch through the odd raw onion or dabble with sulphur on the side. I was absolutely not in the market to be entered on some weird asian gameshow called “Whose Smell is That?”.
Years later, I was living in the Netherlands, spending some time at my aunty’s house and enjoying all the cheese, yoghurts, custards and buttermilks that the country is known for producing. I commented on all the milk cartons populating the inside of her refrigerator and my aunty came out with this interesting fact:
“Over in Japan” she said, “They say you can always tell a dutchman by his smell. Apparently we all smell like dairy.”
Again with the Japanese and their Beagle-like noses! I guess it’s unavoidable really. We are what we eat. Still, I’m not about to restrict my diet to lettuce and celery in the weeks prior to hosting international house guests.
So. This painting’s for you Mr Where’s-Your-Manners-Japanese-Teacher (still not his real name). If only your sense of tact had matched your sense of smell.
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