Dear Mary Pat,
I have a co-worker who overdoes his cologne. The guy must go through an entire vat of it every year. He doesn’t seem to notice that people cough when he walks into the break room or step back three paces when he engages someone in conversation. It’s just too much. I would think that his wife doesn’t have the sense of smell any longer; otherwise, she would have told him to go easier on the scent. Is it appropriate to say something to him? I have allergies, and I’m sensitive to fragrances – especially cheap fragrances in mass quantities. I don’t know if I can endure the mold in the air and his overpowering cologne. Help!
No More Pepé Le Pew
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Dear No More Pepé Le Pew,
This is a common social faux pas. One part of the problem is that people can’t smell their own fragrance after a little while; another part of the problem is that everyone has a different idea of which scents are pleasing; and the last part of the problem is that allergies are an issue for many.
If you wear cologne or perfume, consider when it is appropriate to wear it. Weddings are fine, funerals not so much. If you are going to be in a confined space with others (for example, a church, basketball gym or movie theater), then consider not wearing your favorite scent.
When it comes to applying your cologne or perfume, the difference between people wanting to be near you and fleeing for the hills could be the difference between one spritz and two. Press once, wait a second, then walk into the mist to ensure a lighter touch. If you spray it right on your skin several times, the scent will be too strong, even if you can’t smell it yourself.
Because this is a work setting, you could certainly tell your co-worker nicely that your allergies are flaring up, and you would appreciate it if he would not wear cologne to work. If you think he would be easily offended, you might ask your boss or human resources staff member to start a scent-free workplace policy. Then no one is singled out.