IT IS official. The French do not wash. Fewer than five out of ten French people take a bath or shower every day and the French buy less than half as much toilet soap as the Germans and the British.
This statistical manna to Francophobes everywhere is provided by a series of studies carried out by the French government and perfume and health industries.
But the figures should, perhaps, be taken with a pinch of bath salts. Personal experience on crowded Metro and Tube trains in recent years suggests the British smell more often, and worse, than the French.
On the other hand, that discrepancy can be explained by another statistic.
Although the French do not wash very much, they are Europe's biggest consumers of perfume and deodorants.
According to a synthesis of opinion polls and surveys published yesterday in Le Figaro, only 47 per cent of French people take a shower or bath every day, compared with 70 per cent of Britons and 80 per cent of the fanatically clean Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians. Even the Italians wash more than the French, it seems (the cleanliness of the Spanish, Portuguese and Greeks is best discreetly passed over).
The statistics are reinforced by a sad comment by a near-anonymous French GP (Dr J-FH of Saint Cloud): "For many of us (French doctors)," he said, "the deodorant spray is a tool of the trade at least as important as the stethoscope."
Dr H, practising in one of the wealthiest Paris suburbs, complained he dealt with unwashed bodies every day of his life.
Edouard Zarifian, an eminent French psychologist, said that for the French,"eating and drinking are natural functions. Washing is not." In the northern European countries and the US, he said, washing had long been associated with hygiene in the mind of the public. In Latin countries, it never had.
The statistics gathered by Le Figaro suggest that the French buy very little soap: 600g a year each, compared to 1.3kg for each German and a sparkling 1.4kg for each Briton. However, these figures are for toilet soap only. They fail to take account of the thrifty French habit of buying blocks of kitchen soap to place in the bathroom.
Sales of such evil-smelling soap are 10 times higher in France. Small wonder the French do not wash.
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