Commingling with family around the holidays can be treacherous. Most of our families love us. Okay, so yours loves you. But even when there's no surplus of love, it can sometimes feel as though two entirely different species are coming into contact. By that I mean people who love perfume--a lot--and people who think it smells kind of good but only on someone in another building than the one they happen to be inhabiting.
The following are two hypothetical scenarios which might help you navigate this potentially explosive( i.e. diffusive) territory. I pulled them out of my imagination and can assure you with confidence they involve no persons living or dead.
You arrive home for the holidays to a house full of banging dishes, Christmas music, and screaming children. The place smells of cookies, turkey, candles, fireplace, and something we shall not call doodie but which certainly leaves you wrinkle-nosed and wondering.
Your father is happy to see you. He says, "Well hello there, pumpkin," and you remind him that Thanksgiving is over and ask him if he's trying to say you've gained weight. He looks confused and migrates back to the TV.
Your mother approaches with a tight little smile. "Dear," she says, "oh you look lovely; oh you really do; now, I do want to let you know that Gina, and Alice, and Margaret, whom you haven't met but will love, have all let me know in advance that they don't do the whole perfume thing, so I'm just going to ask you not to wear any over the weekend, and I know that's going to be fine because as I told them you are the most agreeable of all my perfectly agreeable children, a very reasonable being, and after all, it's just a weekend! It's not like you can't go two or three days without wearing perfume!"
Immediately, your mind goes like a cartoon xray to your bag, which you haven't even set down yet, exposing all seven bottles of perfume you packed especially for the occasion. You spent an hour selecting these at the perfume cabinet. Before that hour you spent days, carefully mulling it over:
You brought Giorgio for its nostalgic value.
You brought Womanity because you know your sister, who likes vaguely similar lotions from Bath and Body Works, might like it, in which case you could send her home with it, after convincing her that, despite the packaging, it isn't some Xena the Warrior tie-in.
You brought Youth Dew for an evening by the fireplace, and because it reminds you of your maternal grandmother.
You brought that tuberose from the trio put out by Histoires de Parfums, the one with the immortelle in it.
You brought Aziyade, by Parfum d'Empire, Nuit de Noel by Caron, Jean Patou Sira des Indes. You brought Cedre by Serge Lutens; Also, Natori.
Okay, so you brought eight, you realize. Then you realize, counting again, that you brought nine. So you're bad at math. Fine, so you brought closer to ten than five. You start to get very nervous, because in the hours you spent thinking about the trip, you tried to outline every potential variable, trying to deduce just how much you would need to get you through the weekend, and what you might do if the Giorgio, the strongest on hand, was too strong and the Natori, the lightest, still too strong by far.
You considered all the potential what-if scenarios in order to make sure you wouldn't have to do without for even five minutes, or seconds, that you would have something which sprays rather lightly so that even if you were told your perfume could be smelled from around the corner you could apply just a tiny little drop, just something to rub against your nose every so often, for that fugitive, clandestine toke.
You could look your mother in the face and tell her, with the same tight smile, that you would be more than happy to abstain from any and all fragrance for the weekend, yes, because, why, of course--it's only a few days and Lord, it's just stuff in a bottle which is sprayed on the skin. It isn't as if you brought your friend Jack and your mother has asked you to stuff Jack in your suitcase and keep him there, encouraging you to sneak him small bits of food periodically from the pantry.
You could say, "Why, mother: you know, I hadn't even thought of perfume. Would you believe I haven't even packed any?"
Or you could say that you would love to oblige Gina, Alice, and Margaret, and you can't wait to meet them--as long as they don't have hair and teeth, because you find the whole hair and teeth on strangers thing a bit tricky.
You're shopping with your sister.
You keep trying to ditch her--not completely, not for good--just for the time being. Your sister once wore perfume but hasn't now for years. She knows you like it. She's aware you like it a lot. But just how much isn't something you've yet delineated for her or care to.
You know how this will play out. You can see the perfume counter in the near distance, and you picture you and your sister there. You start out standing close together. Her eyes light up at the first few bottles you smell. "You seem to know what you want," she says, amazed that you've heard of all these brands, even the weirder ones. "I wouldn't know where to start," she says. There's a tone creeping into her voice that you wish you didn't recognize.
She moves a little father away once you graduate to your fourth or fifth bottle. She gets an even funnier look on her face when the SA assures you that the Black Orchid EDP and EDT are identical and you answer a bit testily that actually, no, they aren't.
Your sister gets scared. She starts to back into the corner. She knocks over a tester bottle of Shalimar and apologizes profusely to the SA, who's like, Um, whatevs. "Only the old ladies wear that stuff and they never ask to smell it because they've been wearing it for centuries." Steam comes out of your ears and your sister cowers in fear. Even when you tell her it's okay, placing your hands out to gently pat the air, demonstrating that you intend no violence, your sister startles. She gasps when you make what seems like a sudden move. She whimpers and finally yelps.
You can see this all in your mind's eye. It's happened so many times before. People think it's cute, this perfume stuff, until they see it up close.
Your sister needs to get lost so you turn to her rather abruptly and suggest that she meet back up in twenty minutes, over "there". You point in the opposite direction, so that she's more likely to have her back to you at any give time, whether near or far in her meanderings. Twenty minutes isn't anywhere near enough time, mind you. But asking for anything more will alarm her even more than your sudden request for privacy, as if you are not only going down to buy something illicit but might smoke some while you're there, just to test the merchandise.
She agrees and you breathe a sigh of relief.
At the counter, you smell many things as quickly as possible. You spray five or six cards and fan them out in your hand. The SA stops trying to pretend she knows what she's talking about and brazenly resumes texting as you smell, until such time as your next request from a shelf you can't reach by yourself. For a while she asked if you wanted the coffee beans but you scoffed so many times at the suggestion that with a desultory shrug she dropped them back in the drawer.
Then your sister arrives. You turn with three things shoved up to your nose and she's standing there, a look of fear and dread on her face. It's as if a child had walked in on her parents having sex. The SA has just rung you up and as your sister stares silently at you the girl announces, "Okay, so the total for the five bottles is 367 dollars and twenty-six cents. Cash or credit?"
Walking away, you fight off the urge to feel shame. Your sister looks fixedly at the bright gleaming tile floor, working her mouth into a smile. "I don't understand why everyone is wearing those silly sweaters," you say weakly, as the two of you pass a mannequin with an insanely trendy red cardigan wrapped over her shoulders like a mink shrug. This fails to generate the solidarity you'd hoped for.
Instead, your sister turns to you.
She says, "So...do you...like... I mean, do you have...like, a perfume BUDGET?"
As if you'd just casually tossed down thousands of dollars on a vintage Rolls which makes the Mercedes you parked out in the parking lot seem a little excessive.
Pointing to your shopping bag, you could very breezily say, "What, you mean THIS? Pffft. These are just some gifts I bought for other people, last minute things I knew only this store carries. I wear perfume, sure, but most of what I wear comes from little 1ml vials I buy online, and some of them I don't even buy. People throw them at me! I walk down the street and it rains 1ml vials. It's reedonkulous."
Or you could say that ever since you gave up killing little kittens in their sleep, way back when, six months ago, you picked up the habit of perfume. And you've amassed maybe five hundred bottles but certainly over three hundred and frankly, really, you've stopped counting, because you figure that if you're going to stop killing kittens in their sleep--for good, without slipping up once in a while as some so-called "quitters" do--that will mean stopping the crack too ("I've already given my pipe away!" you can say, "and all my crack friends are out killing kittens, too, so it's not like I can pick up a pipe the way you pick up a leaf on the ground under a tree! It's not like I can come by a pipe just any old place.").
Ceasing to kill kittens will mean stopping crack and even, sigh, wearing your glasses when you get in the car at night, so that everything isn't just a pleasant series of intersecting fuzzy lines. It means that even when you do don your glasses, and you still happen to hit someone, having absently veered onto the sidewalk as you sometimes do, gasses or no glasses, you will feel compelled to stop the car and leave it, to make sure your unfortunate victim is fully dead. If you're going to stop all this, and stay stopped, you really will need to shop for perfume as often as you like for as long as you like and you really hope she doesn't mind. Surely she can appreciate the complexity of the situation. Surely she loves kittens and wishes them no harm. Even if she herself has no kittens, she must know someone who does.
You could also say that, rather than travel to Europe every year for several thousand dollars, as your sister has for ten years, you choose to spend the money on perfume, which is its own kind of vacation, and being priceless, such a getaway hardly needs a budget.