Etiquette Dilemma: Your Perfume Stinks

January 20, 2011 | By | Comments (4)

Every time I ride the elevator down from my apartment, I fear it will stop at the floor where Aftershave Man lives.

Aftershave Man is an otherwise perfectly nice neighbor—who for some reason feels it is necessary every morning to douse Perfume bottle himself with enough cologne to fumigate the entire building. When he gets into the elevator, which is by the way a pretty small elevator, my nose starts itching and my eyes water. Even on days when he doesn’t ride with me, I can detect his recent presence: He wears so much scent that it lingers, like a cooking smell.

This is a small annoyance, in the scheme of things, because I don’t get hives, or wheeze, or anything like that. And so I would never complain to him about it. Instead I nod politely when he gets onto the elevator, and then I breathe through my mouth.

But some people suffer greatly from stinky perfumes and overpowering aftershave. A reader named onebigralph wrote recently to describe his problem:

How does a man delicately tell a woman (stranger) that her perfume scent is offensive and way too heavy? I don't want to be rude, but some days it is just nauseating.

The answer to this question depends on how often—and for how long—you have to endure the odor. If your interaction with the perfume wearer is confined to riding in the elevator for just a minute or two each day, leave her be. Don’t say anything. But if you sit next to her at the office, and have to experience the smell for hours, it’s time to take action.

Don’t tell her she smells nauseating, though. Instead, approach the problem diplomatically. For instance, you could tell her you are allergic to scents and since her perfume unfortunately gives you a headache, would she mind wearing a little less?

If that doesn’t work, turn to your Human Resources rep who, chances are, will be aware of a recent landmark court decision, which banned some Detroit city workers from wearing strong perfume after a planning department employee complained she was having trouble breathing. The plaintiff also got a $100,000 settlement.

Have you ever had to endure a stinky colleague? Or sit next to someone at the movies who was wearing too much perfume? If so, how did you handle it?

(image by of misteraitch, courtesy of flickr)