Canadian views on public and workplace odours

Yesterday I was at Staples picking up a printer cartridge.  As is my habit I walked through the tablet section to view and evaluate the new offerings in portable computing devices.  I wasn’t alone, there was a very well dressed professional, slowly walking down the line inspecting each tablet.

From a distance I wondered if he was an internationally educated professional (IEPs), recently arrived or a native born Canadian.  As I passed by him I was hit by a very strong cloud of what was likely cologne.  My guess he was internationally educated professional.  Most Canadian professioanls do not wear perfumes or colognes.

It is important to note that there is a ban on perfumes, aftershaves and colognes in the Canadian workplace.  Why?  The ban is similar to that placed on cigarettes, in consideration of others who may have allergies or an aversion to manufactured perfumes. Many people simply cannot abide by the smell of perfumes in public places. In my case I become very ill for the remainder of the day.

There is a precedent in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Eurasia that perfumes equate to cleanliness.

Presently the ban on perfumes in the workplace in Canada is the cultural norm.  I imagine that many hiring managers with little experience working with IEPs will assume that the use of perfume may offend coworkers or clients.  There are exceptions of cours.

Feel free to ask any Canadian what the public consensus is on the use of colognes in the workplace.  Similar to a poorly delivered handshake, the use of colognes ltends to raise flags that will work against you.


This is very interesting blog. It will be beneficial to IEPs who are integrating into Canadian culture. Latin Americans often use perfume for cleanliness.

By the way, perfumes in Japan are okay as long as they are not too strong.  However even the imported scented hand creams were hated in my company. It was not because of allergies, it was more due to the disturbance of strong odours.

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8 Responses to Canadian views on public and workplace odours

  1. Naomi Fowlie says:

    I recently asked a sales person to meet with my husband. I had completed initial discussions with a company representative and was impressed by the potential savings and services. A few days later I asked my husband how his conversation had gone and was he interested in changing companies. He agreed that there were benefits but probably not enough to make the change. The clincher though was that he found the sales person’s cologne strong and very distracting. Was it a deal breaker? Probably no. However, the strong scent became the focus as opposed to the product.

    • admin says:

      I have to admit Naomi that perfumes worn by service professionals seem to run contrary to the idea that service professionals are sensitive to clients needs. It immediately puts me on the alert, followed by a strong desire to exit as fast as possible. Thank you for your post!

  2. Kaurobi Pandit says:

    The heading of the article and the article threw me off – I did not think it was about perfumes/colognes. Although I agree about perfumes and its norms/customs in other countries, I was unaware of the ban on such products in Canadian workplace. Thank you for this eye opener!
    Actually I have another “smell” I would like to bring to attention – the smell of food, sweat etc and a mixture of aftershave or perfume together with it. Its so common in immigrants especially South Asians. The winter jackets smelling of different spices/ food odour is just disgusting. I have personally tried to explain this to people hoping I am not being rude or insulting, but not everyone takes it well. Please do shut the closet doors when cooking, air out your home by opening the windows a bit and do not cook just before leaving home! Being clean does not mean wearing expensive clothes or perfumes.

    • admin says:

      Hi Kaurobi,

      Thank you for your comments. Telling people that they smell bad (subjective) does take some tack. I do not think that there is an official ban in all Canadian companies however you will find that it is understood as a cultural norm in most professional environments. This shift is relatively recent. My wifes father was a lawyer who had severe allergies. Instead of informing his clients of his allergies he suffered in silence. For the most part those days are over.

  3. Haitham says:

    I find that such articles (although may be done with the best of intentions) are a symptom of the
    closed mindness of the leaders of the canadian work-force (private or public)

    Canada seems to be schizophrenic about immigrnats with international credentials. As a foreigner an immigrant is welcomed into the country, but usually is shocked by the solid wall of inflexibility, suspicion, and believe in stereotypes that charachterize upper canadian management.

    Many people who come here may have worked on projects that are much more complex than anything done in canada( for example compare building construction here to the skyscrapers of the middle east), have an excellent education, are willing to start in Canada at an entry level position if needed, try to go for the so called hidden job market and do all the so called needed adjustments to canadian work-life ( it really is not that different from any other cosmopolitan setting worldwide), but yet fail to get into the workforce simply because of a preconcieved notion about them.

    Instead of talking about “smelly immigrants” in an un-intentionaly elitist manner, the article should have instead talked about what measures are being taken of late to make the canadian job market more receptive to immigrants (especially highly educated ones) else the current tide of reverse immigration (people going back home) will continue.

    • admin says:

      Hi Haitham,

      Thank you for your comments!

      I share much of your frustration and agree with much of your assesment regarding the barriers that internationally educated professionals face.

      In 2005 I joined my first mentoring program. It was a womans program and all the participants had Masters or PhDs. It was clear to me from the start that most of the individuals in the room were smarter than I. By the end of the program the participants stated that it was the best program that they had ever attended yet none found a job.

      When I did some follow up research to find out why, I discovered that most IEPs recieved a 3 day course without any follow up. The resume sample used in one program was a man applying for a job at an ice cream truck. Those classes were filled with individuals with post secondary educations, including Masters and PhDs.

      In contrast, many programs that professioanal Canadians recieved at the time included unlimited services from 1 to 6 months with access to professioanal career consultants.

      It became a vicious cycle. Human resources would tell IEP candidates that they did not have enough Canadian experience. IEPs would report those results to the service providers and the service providers will tell funders that the Canadian market did not rocognize their credentials.

      It was clear to me that in most cases it was not about credentials, lack of experience or brilliance, rather it was about strategy and identifying and developing new cultural skills.

      What I have come to disover is that the ‘solid wall if inflexibility’ as you call it, is not as solid as you might think. We have been working with international professionals since 2006. Most of our private clients have found jobs in their field, at a level commensurate with their expertise or have found work that lead them directly back to their chosen careers and objectives. It turns out that effective and well applied strategies are what make the difference. The wall disolves.

      I was mad in 2005. I just could not understand how Canadians were so shortsighted, until I realized that they simply did not understand the problem. At the time it was either shut up or step up to the plate for me.

      I would encourage you to read “Why Internationally Educated Professionals fail” on our site. Ultimately the solution lies in accountability.

      I would like to address your view regarding my elistist attitudes. I suspect that if I had written a blog that talked about the importance of smiling at interviews you reaction might have been different. At the end of the day, I am a coach and part of my job is to provide information that will remove precieved barriers.

      I have been surprised by the response I have recieved regarding this particular blog. There are a few responses on this website and more that I have recieved directly by email. All but one are from IEPs.

      For the most part I have come to believe that IEPs are qualified and their succes is dependant on clear measurable strategies. IEPs face many of the same problems that unemployed Canadians do. Much of the difference is cultural.

      Of interest is that lack smiling, presonal hygiene and other potential barriers to employment are also provided to Candians hoping to reenter the job market. Here are some cultural examples:

      In much of Asia you do not look Human Resource professonals or you manager in the eyes – In Canada this comes across as a lack of transparency.

      In many post Soviet States you do not smile at an interview otherwise you might appear stupid – In Canada if you do not smile a hiring manager might think you have behavioural problems.

      If an IEP does not learn how to articulate their strength in a way that a Canadian hiring managers understand, they will not be selected. Simple!

      Here is one links sent to me after the blog was first published regarding colgnes and perfumes in the Canadian workplace. The information is from the Safety Council.

      Finally – I am familiar with many of the hiring standards in the Middle East. Not everything is equal for IEPs there as well. Ask any Philipino that has worked in places such as Dubai.

      Thank you very much for your post!

  4. Mary says:

    Enlightening, Bruce, Naomi and Kaurobi. However, it is not easy coming from another culture to understand immediately. Having lived here for a while, I am quite averse to excesses of perfume on anyone’s clothes and my recognition of it has sharpened over time. In India we sweat much more and need the recourse of perfume or deos frequently, a habit we try to unlearn.. please try to avoid being impatient with us, lesser enlightened folks. Peace!

    • admin says:

      I have resources that inform me that you are not a lesser enlightened folk – whatever that might be! Honestly it is not a matter of patience. Many Canadians need to be informed as well. It is a relatively recent cultural shift, similar to the ban on smoking within the workplace and public places. You will hear the same advice echoed wtihin the halls of professional career transition companies across North America. Thanks for your post!

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