A smelly situation

Wednesday’s Globe and Mail ran an article about a Calgary woman who complained of the way she was treated on Calgary transit buses for wearing too much perfume. Natalie Kuhn says she was singled out three times in the same week for her perfume use. A bus driver warned her during the first incident that he would not allow her on his bus if her perfume was bothersome again. Later that week, he did not allow her on the bus.

Now I don’t know much about the specific scent of Very Irresistible, the perfume in question, so I cannot judge its strength, but I find it hard not to side with the bus driver. If the smell of the perfume makes it difficult for him to concentrate on driving, that puts everyone on the bus at risk. As the article stated, there is no policy in Calgary on wearing too much perfume on public transit. This makes me wonder what would be done for a driver who developed an allergy to a particular scent.

In the article, Kuhn complained about the bus driver stopping to open all the windows and said that asking her to sit next to the window made her feel like a “modern-day Rosa Parks”. I find this to comparison to be inappropriate, even if she is a woman of colour.

Everyone is entitled to wear the perfume of their choice, but many people forget about the small percentage of people for whom perfume could be troublesome. It is simply disrespectful towards the transit workers and other commuters to wear excessive amounts of perfume. You are invading their public space with your smell.

There are many offices and schools that are now perfume-free zones — the high school I attended in Montreal was one of them as a teacher had an allergy. Nowadays, with the way the public has become so careful about peanut allergies and gluten allergies and meeting the needs of people with vegetarian and vegan diets, why aren’t we more careful about the amount of cologne and perfume we wear?

I take GO transit on a daily basis and although it is normal for a fragrance to be stronger in the morning as you’ve just put it on, there are usually a couple people on the train that smell as though they’ve bathed in the stuff.

Now, I’m not suggesting we make public transit fragrance-free, but I think some careful consideration of the people sharing the small space with you isn’t too much to ask.

Photo from The Globe and Mail


  1. I saw this on the news also and I agree entirely. Why should the driver (and everyone else on the bus) have to put up with the smell of someone who doesn’t know that “less is more”? It’s distracting to the driver and irritating to the passengers. Maybe instead of comparing her situation to racist discrimination she should take the hint and reconsider the amount of perfume she’s applying.

  2. I agree about the Rosa Parks comparison – it is highly inappropriate. This is like going onto the bus with a boombox on your shoulder, playing loud music, and complaining that you’re being discriminated against when the driver tells you to shut up.

  3. It always burns my eyes when walking through that section in Sears, so i don’t blame people for complaining about it in the bus too

  4. Excessive perfume on public transit (or elevators) is the worst. If you can smell it on yourself just standing there or if someone can tell you’ve been in the room after you’ve left, you’re wearing too much!

    Most people who wear too much have been desensitized to the smell, just like how smokers don’t realize how much their breath and clothes smell to others. There’s no good reason to wear a scent, so if someone tells you you’re wearing too much, stop wearing so much (duh). It’s totally defeats the whole reason for wearing the scent in the first place if people think you smell bad.

    I had to move recently to a different table because a woman nearby had so much perfume on that I couldn’t eat. Unfortunately, it killed my appetite and my dinner was ruined after I moved anyway. It was like trying to eat a plate of spaghetti with a bouquet of roses strapped to my upper lip…gross!

  5. As someone who has occasionally had to get off a bus or streetcar because of someone else’s stinky perfume (I’m allergic and have about 45 seconds max before I get a migraine so bad it gives me nausea and tunnel vision), I say good move! Halifax has banned perfume in public places and the city hasn’t ground to a halt.

  6. It’s her god-given right to smell like expensive bug repellant! If she wants to proclaim that she’s Very Unimaginative, who are you and your health to stop her? Hmmmmmmmmm?

  7. Anyone else have the thought that if she was wearing as much scent as make-up, it had to be unbearable?

    You have to ban things like smoking and scent in public in an absolute way, because too much of the public has neither courtesy nor common sense. If they were more common, in smokers for example, smokers would be widely tolerated. Smokers may not be more or less thoughtful than anyone else, but since so many of the public are twits, you can’t let any of the public partake in such invasive habits in public.

    The Rosa Parks comment was both self-righteous, and the comment of a twit.

  8. if only Rosa Parks were alive to bottle a fragrance that stinks like a sweaty public transit system, but reminds us each other…. Kuhn’s analogy reminded me of hearing Sarah Vowell sound off on the continual mis-appropriation of Parks’ legacy in this episode of This American Life Radio.

  9. This is ridiculous, people who wear too much perfume or any at all make me sick. Smothering yourself in a noxious chemical for your own vanity does not give you rights; it shows people around you that you are selfish. She shouldn’t have been let on the bus period.

  10. > Everyone is entitled to wear the perfume of their choice

    I am not sure I agree here; making places barrier-free includes making them perfume-free as well. It is just another step in accessibility for people with chemical sensitivities.

  11. I do not understand why people have to wear excessive amounts of perfume.

    It’s totally unnecessary, and unattractive.
    The point of perfume is to have a SUBTLE scent, not for it to be overpowering, and obnoxious.

    You’d think she get the hint? No. She pulls the race card.


  12. I think she’s the one who should be offering the public apology, not the transit workers.

  13. I’m pretty tired of the delicate flowers of the world complaining about scents in public places. The world is stinky and full of gross things that make our eyes water. From strong body odour, car exhaust, strong perfumes to allergens. It’s a different situation in a workplace however transit is a public place and there are people attached to those odours. I think the driver’s complaint is valid however probably tinted with some crankiness and general disdain for the public.

    If you are so sensitive to odour you shouldn’t be working in the public sector. If the problem is a real recurring problem the driver should request to be put on a different route during that timeframe as to avoid the woman. Singling her out in public and denying her boarding is complete unacceptable and exactly the wrong solution to a simple problem.

  14. This woman is out of control, and excess in everything is generally bad, and her national shaming is justice enough.

    But the self-righteous communists who condemn people and their “noxious chemicals” and “vanity” are equally out of control. Let people live their reasonable lives, with a little dab of White Diamonds or Obession if they want, and save the burlap rants for the scent-free but stink-heavy I.S. meetings.

  15. I’m a bit relieved to see how many folks here agree with me about this issue.

    For the few remaining hold-outs, if you imagine that second-hand smoke can be a health threat because of the number of poisonous chemicals it contains, try Googling for “toxic perfume ingredients” sometime.

  16. It seems that the rational complaint here can’t be about people who use perfumes at all, but “those kinds of people”—not those who dab a tasteful amount on their neck, but those who douse themselves in it.

    This is a question of public/private space and how people impose themselves on it. Scent is like sound, it has no direction and can’t be escaped from—unlike someone wearing garish clothing, where you can always look away if it burns into your retina.

    Compare the two types of perfume use to vocal communication: we have no problem with people calmly discussing in the bus, but we won’t tolerate someone screaming, filling the space with super-obnoxious noise.

  17. I am all for scent free transit as long as it includes B.O – I have been bothered by that from fellow riders far more often than perfume.

    If it doesn’t then as far as I’m concerned it’s a free for all.

  18. Brodiac, I’m floored at your “if you don’t like it, don’t go out in public” stance. Wearing too much perfume around a lot of people in a public space is equally inconsiderate as if the person was letting-off a continual stream of rancid, sulfuric farts instead. Sure, the world is full of nasty smells, but it’s incredibly rude to subject people to more of them.

  19. This story is interesting, and the facts, like in most cases, is somewhere in the middle. Right now, Calgary Transit is on a work-to-rule as part of a labour dispute (unlike here, when the TTC union just goes on strike, legal or not). The drivers are probably more cranky and edgy than usual. The drivers probably could have handled the situation a bit better, but have the right to do something if the smell is a problem for them. It is their workplace.

    That said, I have very little sympathy for the complaintant. Between her self-comparison with Rosa Parks and taking her story to the local, then national media. It is only adding to her embarrassment and is completely out of line. She should have got the hint the first or second time around.

    I hope that at least this story will raise awareness of many people’s sensitivity to perfume and other fumes to those who choose to douse themselves with the stuff.

  20. I agree wholeheartedly! Bathing in perfum/cologne is an olfactory assault. It is meant to be sprayed (once)in a mist in front of you in which you walk into.
    Now, can we get something done about the ugly people, seriously, this causes me migraines and nausea. It’s inconsiderate ot look that ugly and go out in public, let alone reproduce.

  21. It is perfectly clear this woman puts her own selfish needs ahead of bothering others. Why did she not get it the first time?

  22. She will probably say that she did reduce the amount of perfume the first time.
    The driver asking her to get off the bus seems out of proportion with the problem. Why not ask her to move back? Was he the only one complaining? If his side is backed up well enough by other riders then he may have a case. I understand her perfume was commented upon by another driver. The key here is was this done independantly or was it something mentioned one driver to another, then commented on by the second driver?
    While the bus is the driver’s work place it is in no way a private or even semi or remotely private workspace in the same sense as an office worker’s office might be. His job will include interactions with the public, smelly though they may be, and he needs to act appropriately and (yes) sensitively. An acute sensitivity to certain strong odors should disqualify him from being a bus driver before it disqualifies her from being a bus passenger.
    I am stealing from comments on other webpages here, but the problem may be with the manufacuturer of the fragrance if they have created a product that, while generally harmless, is still an irritant to a large enough percentage of ordinary people(people without some pre-existing acute sensitivity).

  23. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or Environmaental Illness is a serious disease which affects at least 16% of the population. Perfumes, lotions, soap, aftershave, hair products, laundry products, etc. are infiltrated with a plethera of dangerous chemicals. Many people can not tolerate even small doses. Google or Blingo the above topics for an education. Remember smokers rights? MCS sufferers have the right to live and breathe without getting terribly ill, losing their right to work, shop, attend religious events or other events because someone feels they have the RIGHT to fall into the chemical vat! Please don’t imprison the canaries and deny them their rights! Google MCS/EI proclamations USA also. Thanks.

  24. I think if someone can tell you that you are wearing too much perfume then YOU ARE WEARING TOO MUCH PERFUME. Come one perfume is suppose to subtle. No one should smell it while you are walking by and of course a whole bus should not have to put up with it.

    I for one am sick and tired of people stinking up the world with their gross perfume. I would rather smell cigarette smoke, at least it blows away eventually. Stinking perfume coats your nose and follows you all day.

    Maybe there should be “A Great American Perfume Out Day”. Let others breath for gosh sake!!!

  25. People should stop making such a big deal out of things. Honestly. Do some of those people who “claim” that it bothers them have bad habits themselves? I’m sure they do, but yet it is those petty pathetic people that need something to complaine about. When that topic is done they will go on to another. Second of all that bus driver shouldn’t single that lady out. Frangrance is actually broken done into a number of categories. I’m sure that lady on the bus was NOT the only one with a “fragrance” on. I’m sure everyone wore deodrant? I’m sure everyone used different hair products which do smell as well. Frangrace is perfume, cologne, food, smoke, deodrant, shampoo, conditioner, etc. So for the bus driver to single her out, well maybe it was his own damn deodrant.

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