That’s Right, You Stink, Go Home, Take Bath!

Years ago, in the mid-80s, as a foreign instructor at a southern college, I was assigned two summer classes nobody else wanted to teach because of the un-PC nature of the course. Even though I was an American citizen, I was still considered a foreigner in the southern culture, and as such, who else better suited to teach a bunch of foreign graduate teaching assistants who had already been hired and given assignments to teach introductory classes in the fall semester in various departments, business, economics, engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, generally science classes.
My job was to vet them and to make sure that they spoke English intelligibly and clearly enough to be understood by incoming freshmen. I was to teach them how to make a proper lesson plan, how to develop tests in their subject-area, and how to grade papers in our generous and highly inflated American grading system.
Somehow, I was to make it clear to them that the administration did not like to have parents call the Dean and complain that their progeny had been unfairly tested and graded by the very hard teacher who made Johnny cry when he got an F after a night of partying at the sorority house.
The teaching assistants were to prepare a lesson plan and teach a 15-minute lesson as part of their final exam during which time a panel of three veteran teachers was to grade them on content, delivery, and mastery.
Last, but not least, I was to tell them very diplomatically, without starting a riot in the classroom or on campus, how to bathe regularly and wash their clothes. The president of the college must have had a lot of faith in me, especially since we used to jog at the track together almost every day and talked some during my two miles.
How do I tell an assorted hodge-podge of Europeans, Africans, Middle Easterners, and Asians, most of whom came from backgrounds where soap and water were scarce and very expensive, that they must bathe regularly because body odor is offensive to other people around them, especially to Americans who have plenty of water, cheap soap, shampoo, washing machines, and access to laundromats? One of the first questions on this very delicate topic came from the front row, what is a laundromat?
The math and computer science departments already had a few malodorous foreigners with whom everybody refused to share an office or an elevator; they preferred to climb stairs or held office at the library in the reading rooms or in the stacks to avoid the unbearable gagging stench.
So I came up with the genial idea to say that offensive body odor is part of non-verbal communication and Americans respect each other’s space by bathing, washing their hands, and laundering their clothes regularly. Problem solved! I was quite proud of myself and was looking forward to deliver my speech to the first class.
Here I was standing in front of the classroom, saying in the most crystalline voice I could muster, my prepared sentence. As soon as the last word resonated against the windows, silence. Everyone was squirming uncomfortably in their seats; few were looking up at me, increasing my discomfort by the second. Finally, a Palestinian on the back row, who was going to teach something in engineering, shot up, looked at me for the first time in almost thirty days, and said, “Are you saying that I need to go home and take a bath?”
A pregnant pause followed as I was weighing in my head a response and debating how I should say things to keep this from escalating. A jocular Chinese man, always wearing safari shorts with the hairiest legs I had ever seen, said with a large smile and booming voice, in his broken English, “That’s right, you stink, go home, take bath.” The entire class erupted in laughter and the explosive moment was diffused.
I never agreed to teach this class again the following summer even though I could have used the remuneration.
Today such a class would be considered racist, bigoted, and xenophobic on any American campus which is kind of sad because some people do need proper hygiene lessons to prevent the spread of disease and to spare the noses of those around them.
I am glad that I am retired because today I would not last one day in the classroom. Everybody is offended by something daily and reality has been replaced by moral relativism.

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