Everything I need to know I learned in...Fragrance 101

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What a girl has to go through for a good story. When it was suggested, for research, that I take the Fragrance Foundation's certification program to become an official certified fragrance-sales specialist, clearly I had forgotten my intense fear of test-taking. It had been years since I lobbied in favor of writing a paper over taking a test in a Northwestern University English course when a lovely professor actually decided to poll us students (luckily the writers won out). And clearly I had forgotten the last-moment panic that sets in when cramming for a memory-requiring test in a class where the professor was not so democratic.

Finally sitting down at home following the evening rituals of book reading and repeated returning of little bodies to beds that my children require, I faced the 42-page study guide for the program with great trepidation (and a bevy of snacks-always required when studying, I quickly recalled). Spared the usual requirements for certification of a year's tenure selling fragrances and a supervisor's recommendation, I was armed only with my own extremely limited fragrance experience. (Fearful and blinded by the bad overhead lighting of department stores and the overwhelming number of fragrance choices, most of which are either overbearing or barely odorous, I recently returned to the scent my high-school and college friends recall as my signature, Estee Lauder's Calyx by Prescriptives, after a few torturous experimental years trying just about anything.)

The guide started, much to my dismay, with a chapter on the History of Fragrance. As my test scores would later indicate, history is not my strong suit. Remembering, for example, that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics showed fragrance was alive and well between 3500 and 3000 B.C. vs. any other B.C. timeframe is nearly impossible for me and (an argument I always used in math class) seemingly unrelated to anything I'd have to apply in life, even if I did choose to apply my new certification in a job selling fragrance.

The guide went on to discuss the origins of fragrance (did you know that the rose, the "queen of flowers," is usually picked at night since it is most fragrant between dawn and sunrise?), the anthropology of smell (where it is suggested that Americans' identity crises are a result of "depriving ourselves of an olfactory identity through our constant use of deodorants") and selling techniques ("never let the customer test more than three fragrances at one time.") By the time I got to the glossary in the back of General Olfactory & Fragrance Terms, my head was spinning. Unfortunately, any thoughts I might have had of cheating (after all, it's an online test and it would be so easy to refer to my guide...) were quelled by my editor. Cheating, after all, would have to be put into the story and certainly would put my ethical standards in question. Not to mention, how funny would it be if I failed?

Luckily, though, I didn't fail. Not quite. After some hand wringing, I pushed my guide out of view and signed on for the 100-question true-or-false and multiple-choice test, for which I was allotted 90 minutes. I cruised along, cocky with newfound knowledge, completing it in a speedy half-hour.

What scent improves employees' alertness, performance and attitude? Easy-peppermint. The masculine fragrance family built on fern-like notes? Duh, fougere, of course. My favorite was the question of how to keep a conversation going with a customer that offered "Ask questions about sexual orientation" as a possible answer. (Obviously not, though it could be germane.) But, alas, I clearly strayed from accuracy along the way because I only passed the 70% minimum score requirement by a thin 6% margin. Phew. Now, with my new certification pin on the way, the world is my oyster! Feel free to call with fragrance questions.
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