Sunday, March 1, 2009


I have a terrible sense of smell. This is not entirely a bad thing, and for the most part it doesn't bother me. Like my slightly dodgy eyesight I discovered only a couple of years ago, it wasn't something I thought about very often. Occasionally, though, I would realise just how bad my sense of smell is. Just like those times when I'd be standing at a bus stop and be the last person to work out which bus was coming, my lack of olfactory finesse became obvious when people around would say things like "What's burning?", and "You're not seriously going to put that milk in your coffee, are you?" This can be something of a handicap if you are working with food, for example. I once worked with bartender whose palette was incredible, and I'm pretty sure the guy could smell ultraviolet light.

Generally though, I don't let it bother me. After all, there isn't much you can do about it: being annoyed about not being able to smell much is not the same as being frustrated about my level of fitness, or the fact that I am still barely speak Swedish after living here for nearly 3 years. No amount of nasal push-ups or scent exercises will help me.

In some ways, having a poor sense of smell can even be a good thing. I once shared a dorm room with a guy who was a walking biohazard – in the 4 months that I slept within kicking distance of this little snoring machine, I saw him shower three times, and I once caught him scrubbing the shit stains out of his pants – and I never once wished for a better sense of smell. So it's not all bad. I've been to some really nasty places and never had to vomit, and on those occasions when I have been obliged to clean up someone else's vomit (bartending is a glamorous job at 3am on a Sunday morning), I've not taken a whiff and felt the urge, so to speak.

There are times, however, when I get a glimpse of how evocative smells can be, and feel like I am missing out. Last night as I was climbing into bed I smelt that non-specific smell-of-the-one-you-love, the one that is hard to describe because it doesn't smell like anything at all. It is clearly one of those chemical things where a bunch of molecules latch on to a receptor and send an electric shock straight into the brainstem, hitting all those feel-good, comfort, security, just-got-home-after-weeks-away spots, turning on the endorphins and making it all better. I could manage a better sense of smell if it meant more of that.