Filipinos are known to love bathing. We do it as frequently as possible, normally twice a day. Some people I know even go as far as bathing thrice daily during the summer! We have more shampoo and soap products and commercials than any other culture (that I know).
Since time immemorial, our ancestors have loved the act of bathing… which we can also attribute to our tropical climate and bountiful source of water. But we also love being clean and smelling good. We can smell body odor from a mile away. We’re sticklers when it comes to personal hygiene.
When the Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, the foreigners were aghast at how often we bathed, as they believed bathing (an opportunity to take off clothes,) can lead to immorality, promiscuous sex, disease, and sin.
Because of this belief, the Spanish (and Europeans in general) rarely bathed during the Middle Ages up until the 1800s. Hygiene is only restricted to washing hands, parts of the face and rinsing the mouths. Washing the face is even done as infrequently as possible for they believed it could lead to blindness.
They try to hide their stench with heavy perfumes, scented rags, or carrying fragrant herbs in their pockets.
European royalty were probably worse than the common peasants. A Russian ambassador who went to France described that King Louis XIV ‘stunk like a wild animal’. The Sun King is said to find the act of bathing ‘disturbing’, and has only bathed twice in his lifetime. Another royalty, Queen Isabela of Spain once boasted that she had bathed only twice in her life; first, when she was born and second, when she got married. Russia wasn’t so finicky when it came to bathing and did it far regularly–relatively speaking, once a month. Thus, Europeans thought Russians were perverts. (Source: Today I Found Out)
There are historical records showing that our ancestors thought the European colonizers stank. And we weren’t the only ones who thought so, too.
When the Spanish first arrived in mainland America headed by Hernan Cortes, it was still ruled by the Aztec Empire. It was the first time the Aztecs encountered a completely unknown people, much like they encountered an alien race for the first time.
The Aztecs did not know how to react–they are humans, but they had white skin, lots of facial hair, hair like the color of the sun, and they also stank horribly. In fact, Aztec natives assigned local incense burners to follow the foreigners around wherever they went. The Spaniards thought this was a mark of divine honor, but now we know from native sources that they just really found the foreigners’ smell unbearable. (Source: Sapiens, Harari)
At the least, the colonizers tried to change our local customs and beliefs as much as they could– but they never took away our love for good personal hygiene.