Rail Travel Horror Stories: Spray Deodorant is not Appropriate


Rail travel, the quintessential method of transportation in Europe, is the great equalizer of the classes.  Yes, air travel within Europe has expanded greatly over the last two decades thanks in part to the stripped down micro-fare carriers like RyanAir, but rail travel is still the preferred method for most Europeans.  There are no security hassles, no pat-downs, no lines, no grotesque parking fees, no $15 bloody marys, no delays on the runway and no two hour pre-departure rules.  In fact, I have taken many train rides to and from Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Munich where my ticket was not once checked by a train attendant.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, many have applied the laissez-faire nature of train travel to their own onboard behaviors.  Train stations are often carnivals of unwashed, unmedicated souls who either have life figured perfectly or are completely lost.  Curiously, the interiors of the trains are rarely as sketchy as the stations themselves; leading me to believe that many of the characters hanging around the stations are doing so in the name of entertainment or camaraderie.  I must admit, if I were single I’d probably thoroughly enjoy drinking beers and hanging out at any of the larger train stations in Europe.

The Deodorant Ladies  

Travelling on the Deutsche Bahn ICE fast train somewhere in Germany, I have no idea where, my wife and I were sitting behind two jovial ladies who were having a difficult time dealing with the uncharacteristic heat wave.  As the two chatted at a startling volume (in the quiet car of course), both women would periodically wipe the sweat from their underarms with paper napkins.  Both ladies were wearing sleeveless shirts by the way.  

At some point during the journey the ladies decided that blotting was an insufficient solution and out came the can of spray deodorant.  

I used spray deodorant for about four months in the sixth grade.  It was my first gym class with a locker room and showers, and all of the boys were expected to deodorize to some degree (pardon the corporate pun).  I thought it would be cool to show up with one of those oversized cans of spray deodorant that I had seen my grandfather use when I was younger.  Honestly, it was pretty cool and several of my friends decided to follow the trend.  Before the end of the first quarter nearly half of the boys had spray cans of deodorant.  Dozens of cans of spray deodorant and dozens of young adolescent boys, what could go wrong?

It took about a week before we realized the spray deodorant could be used as a weapon.  The compressed air from the cans was incredibly cold when it first made contact with the skin; giving the recipient of an unexpected spritz an immediate jolt.  We would sneak around the locker room in search of a victim and try to get him in the small of the back.  Eventually we got more adventurous and tried to spray kids up the open legs of their boxer shorts.  Looking back, the whole thing was rather homoerotic.  If we couldn’t sneak up on anyone we would often just hold the cans above our heads and spray the deodorant into the air in attempt to fill the entire locker room with a noxious cloud of Old Spice.


Anyways, when I saw the two old ladies break out the spray deodorant I knew this was going to be some karmic payback for my youthful deodorizing indiscretions.  Sitting directly in front of us, the two ladies blasted each pit with a good three second spray.  There was no escaping the resulting cloud of flower scented powder.  I sat there and took my medicine; certain that this was a long overdue comeuppance.  Others in the train car looked nonplussed but quickly returned to whatever it was they were working on before the attack.  I thought this was unusual because Germans usually have no problem correcting the social behaviors of others should an infraction be of an egregious nature.

While we are on the subject of air quality in enclosed spaces, I cannot imagine what European trains must have been like back in the smoking days.  First off, I’m guessing aerosol deodorants seldom made appearances in train cars filled with cigarettes and open flames.  Secondly, what percentage of Europeans smoked in 1965?  70%?  80%?  Regardless, it had to be well over half of all adults – meaning at any given time nearly half of the adults on the train could be smoking either a cigarette or cigar (or maybe even a pipe).  I would fully support an annual train travel throwback (T3) day where everyone would have the opportunity to experience how miserable it was to sit in a smoke filled train car.  I would totally do this once a year.

The journey continued for quite some time before the ladies again became overcome by the heat.  Surely they would opt for a more sensible option to cool themselves down this time, a glass of water or perhaps a beer..  The train had a full bistro car with everything from water, to chilled white wine and draft beer – plenty of refreshing options that did not involve pepper spraying an entire train car of passengers.


Out came the spray deodorant just as before and again the ladies filled the cabin with a cloud of artificial lilies and body odor.  It was early in the day but I debated a retreat to the bar car to drink away the experience.

Fearful of a confrontation with two brutish German ladies, I opted to sit and endure it for the remainder of the trip.  I found myself to be quite envious of the women.  Who, in good conscience, could knowingly poison the atmosphere of a train car in which several dozen people were riding?  The “deal with it” attitude the women shared was refreshing, but it will be many years, if ever, before I will be able to ignore the comfort of others so casually.  

I suppose once we reach a certain age we no longer have the time nor the interest to calculate the social fallout of abnormal behaviors like spraying deodorant in a train car, or screaming at other people’s children for not using a crosswalk .  I’m just glad one of the ladies didn’t try to spray deodorant up one of my pant legs.

say something...