Hygiene Poll Bares Source of the French Je Sais Quoi


PARIS -- The French invented perfume because they had to. In the 17th
century, even Louis XIV seldom bathed.

In the late 20th century, 96 percent of the French live in homes equipped
with showers or baths, even more than those with bidets. But only 47 percent
bathe every day, according to a roundup of national surveys published in the
daily Le Figaro last week, just before a cold wave began and probably drove
the average down even further.

Washing their dirty linen in public like this is something the French seem
to do every two or three years. In the latest survey, only 60 percent of
Frenchmen were found to change their underwear daily, the same percentage of
all French people who said they regularly washed their hands after going to
the toilet.

This last figure led Bernard Pivot, host of a popular literary television
program, to wonder publicly on Sunday about the wisdom of the French custom of
shaking hands with co-workers at the start of the day.

In particular, Pivot worried about what advice to give employees who faced
the hazard of running into the boss just outside the office bathroom.
Underlings not knowing what the hand that feeds them might just have touched,
he suggested, would be best advised to forestall a handshake by picking up a
voluminous file.

Le Figaro assured readers that 85 percent of them said they washed their
hands before meals. But 6 percent said they never washed them at all, perhaps
explaining why the per-capita consumption of toilet soap in France was four to
five bars a year, compared with a little more than twice as much in Germany
and a lot more than twice as much in Britain.

And even at that, Gerard Nirascou of Le Figaro wrote, people might be lying.
Are Frenchmen lying when only 50 percent of them say they use deodorant?
Unlikely, judging by recent experience in overheated rooms -- unless some are
saying yes when they haven't.

Le Figaro's scent survey drew on sources ranging from the Federation of
Perfume Industries and the Government-supported Health Education Committee to
the Sofres public opinion polling organization. It led The Times of London to
conclude in a headline, "It's True: The French Really Are the Smelliest in

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