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November 29, 2012

Why I Hate Patchouli

The lovely scents of Macau, before the patchouli invaded (Nathan Borchelt)

It’s impossible to over-exaggerate how much I despise the smell of patchouli. I would think the fact that it was used in the 19th century to repel moths and termites would be enough to keep people from spraying themselves with the stuff. Or that it smells like an ungodly mixture of wet earth and decaying flesh. Sure, it may cover the smell of marijuana smoke, but with medicinal use spreading (and Seattle and Colorado legalizing pot across the board), this seems like a fringe application. And yet, travelers still wear it.

My hatred of the stuff dates back to high school days, when a “hippy chick” (as the clique was called) poured some patchouli on a friend’s aviator flight jacket, the acceptable uniform of the hardcore music-lovers. The noxious smell never left (this is as low as a punk can get).

But my distain for this centuries-old smell was rekindled when I returned from Asia last month. After enjoying a week in Macau, bathed in the heady scents of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines, the salty odor of the South China Sea, and smells of vehicle exhaust and the saccharin perfumes of the island’s casinos and luxury shopping malls; after taking a one-hour ferry to Hong Kong and a 16-hour flight to New York; after racing through customs, terminal changes, and TSA security, I was forced to gate-check my carry-on for the jaunt from JFK to Reagan National Airport. When I got home and unpacked, the smell of patchouli hit me like a punch in the nose. Somehow, between New York and Washington, D.C., the smell had invaded my suitcase. 

It’s possible, I suppose, that a baggage handler broke someone’s “perfume” bottle, but, honestly, the smell is nefarious and strong enough to sneak out of whatever vessel that’s designed to contain it and poison everything that surrounds it.

My jeans still smell of the horrid stuff, even after four washings.

So please, fellow travelers, don’t use it. I’m betting it smells worse than whatever odor you’re trying to cover. And if you have to wear patchouli, please please PLEASE don’t pack it in your luggage.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Travel Rants


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Patchouli? It is so 1960's. There are way *worse* perfumes than that under the label, designer. It gives me headache. Tell you what, whoever came up with the idea that we, humans, need perfumes? What archaic idea is that? BO is fine; perfumes smell worse so I will take the BO anyday.

Of course patchouli is a natural extract. So are many perfumes. So people - NO perfumes. Can we all agree on that?

I laughed out loud at the title of this blog, then found myself nodding in complete agreement. I hate the smell of patchouli too. My mother-in-law loves this stuff... must be why we don't get along :)

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