Saturday, March 4, 2017

Column 461 – Scents and Sensibility



Our awareness of sensitivities to scents has been on the increase for the past several decades. Exactly why this phenomenon has occurred is open to debate. Nonetheless, because of the increase in allergies, and a variety of reactions to sprays and perfumed products, society has developed certain rules of etiquette – from suggestions to laws – that help us avoid offending or causing any stress to people around us. Most of us are familiar with scent-free zones in many public buildings including professional offices and seniors’ residences. I applaud the ease that we allowed these behavioural modifications to evolve, sometimes rather suddenly. To me, this acceptance indicates flexibility and resiliency – two characteristics necessary for the sustainability of a healthy society.

Scents that are the culprits of this intrusiveness are found in foods, colognes, detergents, antiperspirants, chewing gum, medications, hair products, and so on. Because we cannot harness the reach of airborne odours, we must be that much more aware of how far reaching they can travel. A good rule of thumb when using colognes and perfumes is to remember that you will interact with others who may feel assaulted if these scents are applied too liberally. Think about how much scent you are putting into the air we breathe. Your fragrance should be thought of as a subtle part of your outfit. It’s not necessarily a bonus for others. It should be used as minimally as possible.

If someone politely objects to your fragrance because it is an irritant, consider how others might also find it hard to breathe because of your perfume, cologne, fabric softener, etc.

For a great article on the finer points of wearing perfume, I refer you to the following article by etiquette consultant/columnist Debby Mayne: https://www.thespruce.com/proper-etiquette-for-wearing-fragrance-1216717

When it comes to food smells, I find it amazing how the lingering waft from microwaved left over Italian food can be more off-putting when I encounter it, say in a business office than at a restaurant. This is particularly true if the odor lingers in an office or other places we least expect to smell foods. A misplaced scent can be an unwelcome surprise in an unexpected setting, and produce the wrong association with people we are visiting or with whom we do business.

Most offices and workplaces have small kitchens or some appliances for heating up food for one’s lunch. But, people have become nose-blind to the foods they regularly eat that have a strong smell. They simply don’t consider other people’s sensitivities. And, interestingly enough, when eating is not what is on someone’s mind, the smell of food can be very distracting and unpleasant. Be sensible and considerate when consuming food in confined spaces.

Who really likes the smell that reeks from those car air fresheners, shaped like a pine tree without the natural scent? They do not cover up the odours they are meant to mask, and create another inordinately disgusting smell. The cacophony of stale smells ranging from wet pets to gym bags to spilled fish chowder to cigarettes or worse do not go away with these artificial odour eaters. Clearly, antibacterial soap and water and a significant measure of elbow grease will go a long way to eliminating bad smells.

In your home, fresh air, regular vacuuming, dusting and a damp cloth make far more suitable solutions to something that smells. Rely on the old fashioned solutions such as white vinegar and water, a lemon rinse, or simple soap and water. These are proven odour eliminators and are economical also.

But no two people necessarily agree on what is pleasant and what is not. Therefore, err on the side of caution. Fresh flowers in your house are one thing, but often they are no longer welcome in a patient’s hospital room. This practice acknowledges both the patient and the hospital staff, who may have an allergy to any number of flowers. When taking a bouquet of fresh flowers as a hostess gift, aside from arranging them in a vase prior to your arrival, be sure they don’t have too strong a scent. For example, Lilies-of-the-Valley are coveted by some, yet are noxious to others.

Finally, there is the matter of body odour. Most human beings are repulsed by the sour smells that our bodies emit if we ignore personal hygiene. Whether it is bad odours produced by exercise or simply not taking a shower or bath, it is our obligation to keep ourselves clean without nasty odour. Do not become offensive because you decided not to wash, not to use hygiene products, and put on clean clothing. This is an important habit to instill in children at a very early age. Dousing ourselves too liberally with perfumes is not acceptable. Wash and wash daily. There is no excuse for smelling lousy. Being sensitive to other peoples’ sensitivities around scents is only sensible.