Foreign Exchange: the straw that broke the camel’s back

Culture clash 2013!

Our foreign exchange student is a big fan of all things chemical. She prefers bread with long ingredient lists, loves pasta from a can, adores adding bouillon cubes to her cooking, and can’t go for more than an hour without using some sort of fragrance-infused toiletries.

Her shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, toothpaste, perfume, body lotion, face lotion, candles, nail polish, styling products, and soap sit in a row atop her dresser downstairs and seep phthalates into our house. The bottles just sit there, even when closed, and reek.

It doesn’t help that, after more than a decade of completely fragrance-free products, I can smell perfume a mile away. Nor does it help that those fragrances, inherently toxic, give me a headache and nauseate me.

I’ve gotten to a point in my hyper-Berkeley-ish-ness that I want to rescue people who reek of perfume. It’s not nice to be holier-than-thou, but I can’t help it. I want to hand the chemically-addicted an article on the neurotoxins found in fragrance and beg them to change their ways.

I’m not dreadful, though, so I say nothing. Not about my mom’s hairspray or my neighbor’s sunscreen or my father-in-law’s cologne. And not this summer when I have to close the bathroom door and run the fan for hours after our Dominican visitor takes a shower.

But today I’m so furious I can’t stand it.

Rosí asked me how to use the washing machine, and proudly did her own clothes yesterday.

But she left a trial vial of some hideous cologne in her pocket, and its contents leaked into the washer. And dryer.

So now my family’s clothes, towels, and napkins freaking reek of cheap cologne. I’ve washed four times, with baking soda, with vinegar, and with non-toxic eco-friendly soap.

The whole house stinks. When I walk into certain rooms I want to throw up. Every time I enter the house I wonder if a group of misguided teens has shellacked themselves with Axe body spray and wandered the rooms of my house just to torture me.

It’s not all about me, of course. When I handed Rosí the near empty vial from the dryer and told her that her perfume had been through the wash, she seemed devastated.

“Oh, no! I’ll have to get more.”

If anyone would like to host a foreign exchange student for a week, please come now. No, seriously. Now. Because there might be an international incident soon.

Really soon.



14 thoughts on “Foreign Exchange: the straw that broke the camel’s back

  1. The thought, just the thought of perfume going through a load of my clothes makes me feel physically ill, so, in your situation, someone would need to call a priest. And, I’m not even Catholic.

  2. OK, nuclear option. Strap her upside down to the chandelier and force feed her bags of black jellybeans. Throw in some fresh produce just for kicks. That is if she is still breathing? ….. is she?

    • Upside down involves gravity and the chance that I’ll have to see the licorice jelly beans and kale comingling on my floor. I need her stapled to the wall, forced to watch a schmaltzy romantic drama, alternating black jelly beans and kale. Raw.

      Thanks for the idea. Gotta go find the stapler.

  3. I’m with Bethany: I feel a migraine coming on just from your description of the fragrance forcefield – a fact which says a lot about your powers of description and, sadly, of the depth of my sympathy for you and yours. May the coming days reek less and less of eau de Yankee Candle.

    P.S. Can’t remember if you’re a coffee drinker, but I once read that coffee beans have a uniquely neutralizing odor. Perhaps just sprinkle some java around your house and you’ll be all set? Or you could do as they did in ye olden days and carry a sachet under your nose. ;)

    • OMG I forgot about coffee beans! I’ve been using baking soda as though it’s perfume-kryptonite, but I’m totally moving toward coffee beans.

      Thank you.

      P.S. Please make sure they pack my body in coffee beans when I’m deceased from the stress-perfume-headache cocktail.

  4. Never would have worked for us. NEVER. And it’s a good reminder, if I ever try something like this: to make it clear: with my kids’ asthma and my migraine tendencies, yah no, uh uh.

    • See, all these perfectly normal people agreeing that this would have killed them makes me feel less like a delicate flower. I get the worst headaches from scented garbage.

      I’m sorry you have migraines. Only two in my life and I’d be happy to never ever ever ever…

      May you never have another.
      Or foreign exchange student.
      Or both.

  5. Are you not able to kindly let her know that things such as perfume, hairspray, and anything else with perfume or scents give your REALLY bad headaches? Even if you had to type it and then translate it at a translation web site it would be worth a try. She may very well in completely oblivious to what it does to your health and would feel badly if she knew the truth. Good luck and remember eucalyptus also helps to absorb odours.

    • Never knew that about eucalyptus. I have some eucalyptus essential oil for homemade lice prevention spray (with rosemary and tea tree, too). I’ll bust it out and see if it can save my towels.

      I kind of just give up with her. I have to be honest: this summer has beaten me down, and I just don’t care any more. She’s nice and means well and this is just not a match.

  6. Would you happen to have a trusted link to such an article handy? We went off fragrances when my daughter was born, but nearly a year later my husband is trying to bring cologne back into his life and though I bought the damn stuff for him way back when I can no longer stand it. Especially when my kid reeks of it after being held. Ugh.

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