Cross Cultural Differences - Scent Memory and Continental/Cultural Perfume Learning Experiences

A student in my online perfumery course stopped me short during our live chat the other day: she had no scent memory connections with the aromatics in the study kit supplied with the course. She's from Nigeria, and rose, jasmine, lemon, etc. - many of the common scents we know and associate with people or places in our past have no reference point for her. I'm just guessing here, but I suppose they just aren't used in the home and environment as they are here. I'll have to ask if there are any lemon-based dishes or lemon-accented food in Nigeria. I have a book on perfumes made for regions of Africa based on the travels of several French perfumers. Perhaps that will assist me in helping her.

There are, of course, many aromatics produced for perfumery in Africa: rose geranium, jasmine and rose, frankincense, grapefruit, clove, vanilla, etc. Since we were in the middle of class, I didn't have time to question her in depth, but I did promise to look further into how to help her create scent memories now "in real time" so she could go forth with her studies.

Perhaps since I know she lives in the Carolinas now, I can suggest she sniff the diluted oakmoss absolute and then see if she has associations with the briny salt quality of it and the Carolina shore. Maybe she can visit a tobacco store and sniff the various tobaccos to get to know that scent and memorize it. Vanilla? Bake a cake? Squeeze oranges for juice? She'll have a lot of catching up to do, quickly, and I'll assist her via a phone call and encouragement to create those scent memories - now.


  1. Wow Anya - this always comes up in developing fragrances. As a fragrance consultant I speak on this very topic. An example I use often is when growing up, we are exposed to baby products, which vary from country to country, even regions of the same country. In the US, most people associate "clean baby smell" with J&J baby shampoo/talc(powder) - this of course is different in Spain, France, Japan, etc...since there are varied brands with their specific fragrances. These products form some of the oldest memories for people. A breakdown of consumer products(fragrances) and where they are from is next on the list of things to do. Good Luck !

  2. All of your observations are so true, Darryl - thanks for the input. I know that for Cubans and many in Latin America, lilac is the scent of the men after a visit to the barber shop. In the Caribbean, "Florida water" - a citrusy cologne is used. For some reason, I forget why - lavender is not particularly pleasing to people from India. I can dig through my notes and perhaps send some information your way for your project. I am going to speak with my student and question her about the early scent memories from Nigeria - there must be many, but they're just unknown/unfamiliar to us.

  3. Hi Anya, Quite often I find clients are better off explaining how a scent makes them feel when they first try it than trying to associate an actual memory. Many of my scent couture clients have not experienced the scents I use and have limited capabilities in recognising them. So we talk about emotional and physical response instead and delve into that. My neice has never smelt Labdanum before and has nothing to link it to but had an immediate sensual response to it. I hope thta makes sense and helps your students.Emma

  4. Hi Emma:

    That's how I conduct my custom perfume interview, also. Teaching students is a bit different, a bit trickier. I'm trying to have them imprint an image, a person or a place - and perhaps a sensual or other sensation, too.


  5. Cross-cultural awareness always brings to light these types of "hidden in the open" discoveries.

    Please write more about scents that are so culturally conditioned (like a fresh baby) that they just seem obvious to "everyone."

    This is a topic that gets surprisingly little attention in cross-cultural education.
    Thank you.

    Jonathan Kroner, JD,MBA

  6. Hello Jonathan, Thank you for your comments. In undergraduate school I studied ethnobotany and was already studying perfumery on the side. I was taught interviewing techniques as part of the anthro curriculum that allowed me to develop an understanding of what is relevant to different cultures.

    I find myself using this technique in all my custom perfumery work, and now I am finding myself using it with my students.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Boxgasm - for perfumers, aromatherapists, bath and body manufacturers, chandlers. What the heck is a boxgasm? Well, read below and you may have one.

Ask the Perfumer Sunday Oct 21, 2012

Contest: Fresh ginger, fresh ginger, wherefort art thou fresh ginger?