What to do when a colleague stinks

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…and by that I mean an officemate who smells. Badly. Of body odor. Or Wal-Mart perfume. Or ambition.

In my husband’s line of work, this is a serious issue. Not because classical musicians tend not to bathe, but because if you can’t breathe, you can’t play. In an opera or Broadway pit, someone who saunters in reeking of cologne is likely to cause a union-backed revolt.

Since I met him 800 years ago, I too stopped using perfume. And since I became pregnant 8,000 months ago, I too have become hypersensitive to scents. Riding the bus to work the other day, I looked up in time to see a woman across the aisle spritzing herself. In the bus! She was too far away for me to protest, and anyway, the damage was done. But then the lady who sat down next to me pulled out a bottle of nail polish, and it was on, baby.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Please don’t use that in here.” She looked at me like I was insane. But then I looked back at her like I would chew her manicured hands off. She put the bottle away.

Lisa Belkin writes about people who are allergic to work in yesterday’s New York Times. No punchline: many workers report that their workplaces trigger or heighten allergies, sometimes to a serious degree. This blog, BreatheFreeorDie, is written in passionate defense of the olfactorily sensitive. But others, like this blogger writing on the topic, feel this is one more example of the neurotic few dictating the individual rights of the masses.

What do you think? Should I suck it up when my officemate reeks? Or should all offices make like orchestra pits and ban the use of smelly potions and lotions?

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