WoD – How We Smell

So I was having breakfast at a diner the other day.  (Ok ok, this WoD idea was originally from way back in Sept. 2008.)  This woman came into the diner, and holy smokes, did she have on a lot of perfume!  That department store-heavy, a bit old-fashioned, overpowering, almost stifling perfume smell – you know what I mean, right?  It was pervasive; and as she slid into the booth behind us, there was no escaping it.

But slowly, after maybe a minute or so, neither of us eating even really noticed the smell anymore.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t there anymore… impossible!  But somehow, our noses and sense of smell sort of adapted to it.  So much so that we didn’t even really notice it anymore after only a minute.

I’m sure you can relate and think of many instances where this has occurred – sometimes when you walk into your house or apartment after a vacation and you take your first few breaths of the place (hopefully pleasant enough) but then after a few seconds you can’t smell it anymore, or maybe when you walk into a cedar closet and smell old mothballs at first.  But as powerful as it is, soon thereafter it seems to fade almost completely from our conscious.

So why am I writing this now, after 12 months of sitting in my drafts folder?  Well it struck me that it is in pretty direct contrast to yesterday’s notion on how we hear.  Somehow our brain can squelch or even learn to ignore smells or odors we breathe in, after only a few breaths, but we can’t seem to do this with things we hear.  Why not?  And what about taste, touch and sight…?

(Here’s an only-somewhat-related freebie to think about: what if we actually had six senses?  And the sixth one is “pain”?)

Tuesday:

ZOL ZAYN SHTIL (ZOHL zain SHTIHL)

Be quiet

Zol zayn shtil! The previews are over!

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2 Responses to “WoD – How We Smell”


  1. 1 Brad September 1, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    So, I don’t know if you’re comparing the same level of ‘invasiveness’ in saying that we learn to adapt more easily to smells than sounds.

    Quiet, ‘regular’ sounds (soft music, a fan, traffic outside the window of your city apartment, waves crashing on the beach) are noticeable at first, but then they fade into the background pretty quickly. Happens every night when I put on my little noise machine (‘stream’ I believe it is) before bed.

    It’s the same with smells. The woman’s perfume hit you strong at first because it was new, but then you adapted to it. Arguably, it probably did get weaker at the same time because she was sitting at the booth rather than moving into it and pushing air your way.

    Just like there are sounds that don’t really fade into the background, though, there are smells that don’t do that, either (at least not for a long time) – think about being at the dump (when we used to have dumps) or riding a bike through cow pastures. That’s like the loud music of smells… Maybe after a longer while, you’d become accustomed to the nasty smell, but maybe the same is true for a loud sound. I think it’s all relative. Well, at least sound and smell. We’ll have to save the other senses for a different day.

    • 2 Yiddish WoD September 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

      Why hello Brad! Yes, indeed, you make a good point about relative-ness. Perhaps if I was having breakfast at the town dump or in a cow pasture it might be harder to have that smell fade away entirely.

      Ok but still – when you come back to your house or apartment after a vacation or many days away, you smell something (the unique “smell” of your place) and then in like ten seconds it is gone. Entirely. You can’t smell it or replicate it or even describe it at all anymore. And that’s not quite the same with a background noise. Anyway, I have no point to make, other than to make us all think about our senses a bit, rather than just tune them all out, all the time. Perhaps I should have made that “pain as a sixth sense” its own unique WoD, since that one keeps floating around in my head now, too…


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