Friday, January 16, 2009

Renaissance Faires -- Stinky and Crowded?

Perhaps you've seen this Free Credit Report commercial set in a Renaissance Faire:

Aside from the meter of the song (which is one of the poorer ones in the series), I found this commercial confusing. The idea of most of the commercials is that the singer has to take on extra work or is unable to make big purchases because his credit is poor.

So ... what's he doing at a Ren Faire? Are they supposed to be working the Faire? It sure doesn't seem like it. If he's a customer at the Faire, why not just leave? Instead, we get two messages: Ren Faires stink (because they have goats and chickens running around), and they are crowded (they get bumped by swordsmen, and a pregnant woman pushes his guitar out of the way). Actually, I've never been to a Ren Faire that was either stinky or crowded.

It started me thinking, though, about the common perception that the Middle Ages stank. I'm not so sure that was the case.

Of course, there were lots of things that smelled bad. When I lived in Eastern Europe and had hot water only one day out of the week, I was the only person I knew who showered daily. I'm sure in colder climes, daily bathing was uncommon (though the whole "only bathed once a year" reference I've heard so many times is bunk). Also, people lived in closer proximity to livestock, and without modern sanitation, the midden probably didn't smell too good either.

But those people were used to it. When I lived in Korea, we all reeked of garlic, so much so that no one noticed it. I didn't eat Korean food for a week before returning to America, and still the first words my sister said to me were, "Phew, you smell like garlic!" Koreans kept their clothes, though, absolutely immaculate. In Lithuania, the locals didn't seem to notice the body funk on the other passengers on the bunk, but tended to keep public areas clean and uncluttered.

I suspect that if we could bring someone forward to today from the Middle Ages that person would think we stink of smells to which we are accustomed, but which they might consider foul. Think of the odor left by automobile exhaust, or the constant chemical smells around us -- cleaning supplies, paint, clothing detergent, etc. We consider those smells minor because we are surrounded by them every day, but to some not so used to them ...? Our industrialized life working in buildings with processed air, processed water, and a thin chemical glaze over nearly everything we encounter might be nauseating.

Me, I like having modern sanitation, clean water, and access to pine-scented cleaning supplies -- but if I had been born and raised in the Middle Ages, I might prefer medieval odors to today's.


  1. There are reports that, during WWII, American soldiers found the Japanese to smell of fish -- and they found the Americans to smell of sour milk.

  2. You wants smells -- go to Barbados or some other island surrounded by a vast ocean, then come back to a North American city and SMELL THE GASOLINE!

    And I've been to Korea...

  3. Anonymous3:01 PM

    I had a similar thought recently. Twice last week I was assalted by someone who must have doused themeselves with perfume, either that or they have soap, shampoo, perfume and lotion that smells the same way and they used it all at once. I'm not normally bothered by such things, but both times the odor was overpowering. I found myself wishing they would just stop bathing and smell like BO, it would have been better than the flowery, froo-froo that preceded them, overpowered me and then lingered. The problem is, after you've been around the same smell for awhile, you can't smell it anymore.