Pat Muir is still out of the office, so here’s some classic complaining from 2016.
How do I tell my diminutive colleague that he does not, in fact, need to apply an entire bottle of cologne every day?
Walking in behind him this morning required emergency breath-holding; standing as I am now, it’s like there’s a direct draft aimed at my poor, innocent nose.
Sincerely, At Least It’s Not Axe?
Dear At Least It’s Not Axe?,
Did you know that Axe, the sex-driven enfant terrible of male personal grooming brands, is owned by the same company that owns Dove, a brand that markets shampoo and conditioner as weapons of women’s empowerment?
It’s true. They’re both under the umbrella of Unilever, a Dutch-British company. Anyway, that’s just a weird little tidbit I learned doing research for this response. I included it because your question was so short I needed strange-bedfellows brand trivia to pad my response and help get this column up to standard length.
Unilever also owns Hellmann’s. It’s a matter of time before we get mayonnaise-scented soaps and shave gels.
So, uh, getting around to your problem: Yeah, that’s a toughie. You might start by bringing your concern to your company’s human resources department. Ours here at the paper sends out memos reminding us to “refrain from using excessive amounts” of cologne and perfume because it can irritate people’s allergies. This may be true; it’s also a nice way of telling idiots they smell so bad it’s distracting.
The trouble is, the people who wear excessive amounts of cologne aren’t going to recognize themselves in that description. They don’t wake up and think, “I’m going to use an excessive amount of cologne; after all, nobody dislikes that.” No, they slather it on (oblivious to how this amount necessitates verbs like “slather”) and think, “Got it; the perfect amount. Watch out, ladies.”
So going through HR might not do the trick. You may have to directly but very, very, very, very, very politely tell the guy his cologne is bothering you. Etiquette-wise, telling someone he smells bad is among the most delicate situations possible. It’s such an interpersonal minefield that many people opt instead to just deal with the bad smell. So, if you go this way, do it with as much tact as you can gin up.
Something like, “You know I hate to even mention it, but I have a very acute sense of smell and I was wondering if you would mind wearing slightly less cologne,” is better than, “Dude, seriously? Do you bathe in that filth?” But either one is going to sting the guy a little. I wish you luck.
As an aside, I don’t often have your problem. Smoking for 20 years (before quitting a few years back) dulled my sense of smell to the point where I can’t think of the last time I’ve smelled anyone’s cologne or perfume.
This may not be a workable solution for you, what with the time required, the horrible smell of cigarettes themselves and the very real threat of painful lung-cancer death. But it does work.
Hope that helps.
Please send your questions, complaints and irritations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Dear Crabby.”