Perfume wars

Dear Aunt Angela:
Recently, I was shocked and dismayed at an incident that occurred in my building, normally a place of peace and harmony. I got into the elevator at the same time as Mrs. X, one of our long-time residents. The doors started to close but Ms. Z, another resident, came rushing up.  She was about to enter but then, springing back with a hand to her nose, she said,  “Ugh … too much perfume! Never mind; I’ll take the stairs.”

Though scrupulous about hygiene, I am innocent of using highly scented products. But I know Mrs. X has started to leave asphyxiating clouds of J’Adore L’Absolu in her wake. I believe she has begun to lose her sense of smell.

The problem is that Mrs. X has made no secret of being extremely offended by Ms. Z’s remarks. Tension is the building is almost as palpable as the perfume. Residents are taking sides. What can I do to restore the feeling of tranquillity that formerly reigned?

Shocked and Dismayed in Vancouver

Dear Shocked and Dismayed:

What an unfortunate situation. To be clear, there are two infringements of etiquette here: the lady who wears too much perfume (highly unpleasant to many people, especially at close quarters, and — worse — a potential cause of asthma attacks in those sufferers sensitive to the irritants in the perfume), and the lady who expressed her opinion too openly and without diplomacy, thus causing a hostile reaction.

You, S&D, must be the diplomat here. Your task is to find a way to speak to Mrs. X about this. If it is possible for you to invite her for coffee, that is a good way to begin. Otherwise, you will have to take the next opportunity to draw her aside for a few words in private. Your best starting position is to assume that she would rightly be horrified if she knew  she was doing something socially reprehensible. Appeal to her better nature. Infer that awareness of this problem is a very recent development. Express understanding and solidarity. Enlist her aid.

Phrases such as:

  • “So sad — I used to love wearing perfume myself, but …”
  • “You know, of course, that many offices have recently banned …”
  • “I know you would be the last person to intentionally cause distress …”
  • “Perhaps you would consider mentioning this to other people in our complex?”

are along the right lines.

If you are right that she has begun to lose her sense of smell, this could of course ultimately be dangerous. Tread carefully here and see whether there is an opportunity to raise this during the initial conversation, but leave it for later if the time doesn’t seem right.

I would leave Ms. Z alone. However tactless her remark, she has at least raised awareness of this issue and one has some sympathy for her natural reaction.

… Aunt Angela


The Age of the Girl

I watched the movie Magic Mike recently. It was about what I expected, with two exceptions: a great, campy performance from Matthew McConaughey and a surprisingly good one from Cody Horn in the role of the potential girlfriend who waits for Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) to get tired of the party lifestyle that apparently goes along with being a male stripper.

Anyway, male strippers: a strange cultural phenomenon. Toned bodies, yes, but what’s with the over-the-top costumes, gyrations and thrusting? Is this what women want on a night out with the girlfriends in 2012?

It turns out that, yes, there is still a demand: for some women, going out with the girls means dressing up, getting drunk, and squealing as men caress themselves and thrust their hips in a parody of lust. And I just don’t get it.

Channing Tatum has a pretty good explanation:

Men go to strip clubs for a pretty simple reason. It’s a carnal, visual thing. The point of male stripping is to bring women onstage and embarrass them so their friends can cheer them on. Women go to watch their friends’ faces turn red and to have a night of camaraderie with their girlfriends. — Channing Tatum on IMDB

Makes sense. Though I can have a night of camaraderie with my girlfriends in pleasanter surroundings. And there is something about the behaviour that goes with the wild girls’ night out. It’s a kind of playacting, I think, and perhaps has its origins in an old-fashioned male view of sexuality, where women’s attitudes and needs are thought to be identical to men’s, but why do so many women conform to this view?

Looking at the groups of women out on the town for hen parties or other kinds of girls’ nights out, I see certain similarities: a lot of skin on display; skirts too short to be flattering (let’s not even think about striving for elegance); shoes too high for comfort or stability. But this seems to be suitable costuming for the activity. And then you must drink, preferably shots.

The whole shots phenomenon happened after the days when my social life included drinking too much, so I don’t understand it.  I was recently at our local — the Raven, a reasonable kind of neighbourhood pub — where I idly perused the list of shots (“4 for $15”). There were a lot, all variations on the theme of combinations of sweet liqueurs. And then there were the names. The ones that jumped out at me were The Nymphomaniac, The Slippery Nipple, and The Blow Job. No … really? I mean, really? That’s pretty crass. Assuming you actually want the drink, how do you even ask for one of these?

Suddenly, I was in a nightmare universe where all the awful pictures of breast-augmented, reality-TV starlets, the “Who Wore it Better?” comparisons in In Touch (much thigh and boob, the hooker heels), and the Cosmopolitan articles that are variations on the theme of learn-about-the-three-top-things-you-can-do-in-bed-to-keep-him-happy, threatened to overwhelm me. I realized that we are in The Age of the Girl. Where The Girl is a giggly, intoxicated airhead with a body-conscious dress and a propensity for the one night hookup with her male (tanned, toned, cologne-wearing) counterpart. It sounds awfully pompous to talk about the cheapening and distortion of sexuality, so I will just say that I hope the pendulum swings back soon. I look forward to The Age of the Woman.

Brain invasion

Sharing yam wedges and tamarind aioli with a friend the other day, I became aware that I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. The reason was the two big TV screens hanging over his left shoulder. It’s hard to have a thoughtful conversation when there is constant distraction from something big and loud and fast-moving in one’s field of vision.

I thought that was bad enough, but the programming on the left-most screen appeared to be all news — and the more violent the better.

The first image was of a burning tanker truck, overturned on a highway. There were leaping flames and a plume of black smoke. The second was of a woman’s face, with a transcript of the 911 conversation in which she tells the operator she has killed her children running across the screen below. The third was of men wearing dusty army fatigues and carrying machine guns kicking in a door. I felt my brain had been invaded by disturbing images that I hadn’t been prepared to watch .

It was HLN, which I later discovered to be CNN Headline News. The format is the ultra-condensed version of the news, the television equivalent of the USA Today newspaper.

Due to the network’s tradition of rolling news coverage, the network has become popular with people who may not have time to watch lengthy news reports, in addition to places where a high demand for “get to the point” news exists, such as airports, bars, and many other places.

I read newspapers with a modest amount of in-depth content and I occasionally check breaking news online, but that’s initiated by me. Having news and entertainment pushed at me is a reason why I tend to stay away from certain kinds of bars and restaurants. I yearn for the old-style British neighbourhood pub, where you could sit in a corner with friends, drink real beer, and set the world to rights through talking about it.

Faux friends

Again this year, I have a collection of Christmas cards from businesses. What can you do with them? It’s one of those dilemmas of modern life. I am not going to display them along with cards from people I actually know, but it seems slightly inappropriate to throw them out right away. So I keep them lying around on a shelf for a month or so and then put them in the recycling.

I had a phone call the other night. It was from a friendly young women, a current student, on behalf of my alumni association. My telemarketer radar didn’t kick in right away, as she wanted me to update my contact information; this seemed legitimate. When I told her my email address, it seemed to naturally trigger a question about where I worked now. I hesitated but I had been lured in and now didn’t want to seem rude. Don’t you hate it when a complete stranger puts you in that position?

I reluctantly answered a question or two, which put me in the further weakened position where she could move on to ask about supporting a deserving organization. Now I attempted to regain control by asking her to email me the details.  We played the usual game: if I pledged something over the phone, I could change the amount later on (actually, she suggested I could increase it later on). At this point, I could say no — she was not my friend; she was just another person asking for money.

Well, I suppose some of this is inevitable. I am part of the consumer culture. I am in far too many databases: many of them by a kind of choice. I know collecting all those loyalty cards comes with a price: you get discounts but you provide information. And part of the price is that complete strangers know my name. Obviously, studies must have shown that people in general respond to the more personal approach.

Then there is the other side of the coin where people tell me their names. Perhaps it all started with the Keg waiters saying, “Hello, I’m Bob: I’ll be your server tonight.” There was a time when serving staff at medium-price-range restaurants were pleasantly anonymous, but no more.  Maybe someone noticed that a server got more tips when we knew his name.

But I want businesses to apply more sublety. I want them to distinguish between a friendly but businesslike manner and a false friendliness. Customer relationship management has become customer relationship invasion and far too many faux friends are invading my personal space.

Sixteen to sixtyish takes less time than you think

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend with a motorcycle — a Norton 650SS. It was a fast machine and I used to cling onto the back as Bad Boy Boyfriend accelerated along the straight and cranked it over into the turns.

One day, inevitably, the bike flipped on some loose gravel and I went the other way. I came to on the ground with an oddly bent right leg. A passing nurse splinted it with her umbrella and I was carted off to hospital in an ambulance.

I had broken both bones below the knee and there were several loose fragments. Today, I suspect, I would have had an operation to tidy things up a bit more. But this was a long time ago. The bones were reset twice and then the surgeon decided it was good enough. I spent the next six months in plaster. The first cast was up to the top of my thigh.

Imagine the calendar flipping over and pages blowing away … Years and decades pass.

Now all those years of use, and probably that long-ago damage, have combined to make my right knee a problem. I have minimal or no cartilage, depending on which specialist you listen to. I will have to have a knee replacement soon or maybe not for a while, again depending on the source. I definitely can’t walk downhill much any more.

I attended an arthritis assessment clinic recently. After I had got over the shock of the large-print letter reminding me to bring ALL my prescription medications with me and to wear my “normal comfortable walking shoes” (what?!) and the shock of the clinic’s location (Google Maps told me it was between the Seniors’ Activity Centre and the Lifestyle Retirement Communities), I found it was actually helpful and the staff were not patronizing.

But, oh dear. Where did the years go? Only yesterday I was a motorcycle mama and now I am, if not actually a grandmama, well and truly old enough to be one.

New homonym-detecting software needed urgently

floodLately, there has been an epidemic, a flood, of misused words where the correct ones sound the same as the wrong ones. Some of the more entertaining errors I’ve noted this week are:

“the teaming rain”
“with baited breath”
“take a sneak peak”

— which conjure up some wonderful images!

Of course, there is the usual “stationary” where “stationery” is meant; “principle” and “principal” are used interchangeably; and “palette,” “palate,” and “pallet” are routinely confused.

Even if people use the ubiquitous spell checking functions provided with word processing software, errors may go undetected if the writers are not  thoughtful about the meaning of their communications. So we need a homonym detector. I propose ContextCheck as a suitable name. Please, software developers: step forward and save the language.