Sunday, January 31, 2010

Calling an Audible: Another First Nerve Literary Classic

In our send off to the recently departed J.D. Salinger, we waxed nostalgic about the classic audible-in-the-chapel scene from Catcher in the Rye. Responding in the comments, reader Ed C. pointed us to the 1972 football novel Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins which he suggested contained much cruder and funnier fart scenes.

Cruder AND funnier? You don’t have to call us twice for dinner. We checked out a stained and mildewed first edition from the town library and inhaled it in one sitting. Nothing better than a football novel on the empty Sunday between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. (OK, technically not empty, but we’re just not that into the Pro Bowl.)

Semi-Tough is the biography of New York Giants star running back Billy Clyde Puckett as spoken by him into a tape recorder off-and-on in the days leading up to a Super Bowl matchup with the “dog-ass New York Jets.” Puckett’s good ol’ boy story-telling style gives us professional football in the locker room, on the field, and on the road. Between the nonstop carousing and sexual hijinx Puckett manages to deliver a believable love story as well.

The book is, as Ed C. cautioned, profane and vulgar in the extreme with liberal use of racial epithets. It’s also funny as hell, with ongoing flatulent outbursts from a Giants player named T.J. Lambert. He’s introduced in an early scene where Puckett’s roommate and lifelong friend Marvin “Shake” Tiller makes a locker room speech.
“Shake stood up on a bench in the dressing room and said, “I think we got some shit we need to talk about, man to man.”

I recall that Puddin Patterson from Grambling, our best offensive guard, was flopped out on the floor picking at his toenails, and when Shake said that, Puddin belched real loud.

“Puddin’s with me,” Shake said. “Anybody else?”

Nobody said anything, but T.J. Lambert, our big old defensive end from Tennessee, hiked his leg and made a noise like a watermelon being dropped on concrete out of a four-story building.

When everybody stopped laughing, Shake got into his talk.
I wouldn’t say that T.J. Lambert’s talent for farting-on-demand is pivotal to the plot, but it does lend the novel a certain air of comic authority. (C’mon, ladies, it’s funny! . . . OK, OK, so it’s a guy thing.)

You could do worse than skip the pre-game show next Sunday and settle into the La-Z-Boy with Semi-Tough and a bowl of bean dip.

The Smelly Web Indexes: January 31, 2010

For the week ending January 31, 2010:

The Solo Blog Index
Close: 112
Change: unchanged 
Big movers: FirstNerve +15%, AnyasGarden +6%, GrainDeMusc -13%, 1000Fragrances -5% 

The Team Blog Index
Close: 123
Change: +1
Big movers:  ISmellThereforeIAm +8%

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 62
Change: -2
Big movers: TheDryDown -7%, Sniffapalooza +5%


Despite internal volatility, the Solo Blog Index moved sideways for a second straight week as big gainers offset big decliners. The Team Blog Index eked out a one point gain as a big uptick in ISmellThereforeIAm pulled up the other three component sites which all showed losses. The Corporate & Community Site Index dropped another two points from last week’s record low; Sniffapalooza was the only gainer in the group.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

All Aboard: A Whiff of Lagos

Whoa. And I thought the New York subway was a smelly commute.

Farting in Chapel: J.D. Salinger Dead at 91

We remember Salinger for the Edgar Marsalla moment in The Catcher in the Rye:
. . . then all of a sudden this guy sitting in the row in front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in chapel and all, but it was also quite amusing. Old Marsalla. He damn near blew the roof off.
We think deliberate farting is a lethal counter-example to Erving Goffman’s sociological account of flatulence as a failed “performance of self.” In fact, we’ve established the Edgar Marsalla Award to recognize outstanding deliberate achievement in the area of disruptive gas-passing.

Very crude. 

But also quite amusing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What the Dormouse Said


The theme is “one mighty drop” but the image is an atomizer. (You know, like Grandma used.)
One drop changes everything. Rediscover the transformative power of perfume. In one drop, feel six feet taller, 60 watts brighter, 600 times sexier. Eau, just imagine.
Add that to the Peter Maxish psychedelic color scheme and we’re tripping balls.

Who is this aimed at? “Rediscover perfume” implies the target audience is women who used to wear scent. Do these ladies really need “Do’s and Don’ts” advice for simpletons? Do “Try before you buy” but Don’t “Try more than three scents at one time . . .


Rochelle Bloom believes this “will make the consumer look at fragrance in a new way and engage with new enthusiasm.” Rilly? What say you?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Smelly Web Indexes: January 24, 2010

For the week ending January 24, 2010:

The Solo Blog Index
Close: 112
Change: unchanged 
Big movers: FirstNerve +22%, JaimeleParfum +13%, IndiePerfumes -24%, NathanBranch -14%, Vetivresse -13% 

The Team Blog Index
Close: 122
Change: -1
Big movers:  none

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 64 
Change: -14
Big movers: TheDryDown -18%


This week the Corporate & Community Site Index plummeted 14 points to its lowest close ever. Three of the four CCSI sites showed losses, led by TheDryDown; only BaseNotes managed to eke out a 1% gain. The Solo Blog Index moved sideways but with a lot of internal volatility as two big gainers offset three large decliners. The Team Blog Index notched down one point as three of its four component sites registered small losses.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Perfume by the Numbers: Google Autocomplete

We had some nerdly fun recently using Google Trends to view seasonal variation in fragrance-related online search activity. We decided to take another look at smelly search terms, this time using Google’s autocomplete function. Type one or two words into the search box and Google helpfully serves up the full text of the most common searches using those words.

Type in “perfume that”, for example, and you get these search phrases.

Clearly there are a lot of ladies wondering how best to lead a guy by the nose; popular autocompletions include perfume that attracts men, that men love on women, and that turns men on. What sort of scents do these wily ladies have in mind? Perfumes that smell like cotton candy, soap, baby powder, roses and laundry. There are also value shoppers looking for perfume that lasts all day, and people so addicted to the discontinued Hollister August fragrance that they want something—anything!—similar.

Here’s another way to see what sort of perfume are people searching for.

Folks want perfume that smells like cotton candy, soap, baby powder, roses, laundry, the beach (wasn’t Ocean by Calvin Klein really Kramer’s idea?), vanilla, chocolate, cake, and of course Hollister August (alright already!).

Concerns about BO crop up on autocompletions to “my girlfriend smell” and “my boyfriend smell.”

What is there to say? Being a teenager isn’t easy.

What happens when we take a wider view and search for “what smell”?

Once again the Google autocompletion ouija board points to sex, specifically smells that guys like and those that turn men on, turn guys on, and turn women on. A lot of people are want to know what smells their dogs and cats dislike—is this about keeping them off the furniture? And what drives the Google inquiry “what smells like weed?” People looking for a good cover story or those thinking of pulling the old oregano scam on some fourth graders?

Let’s take another run at it by typing in “the smell of.”

This produces an interesting set of autocompletions, some benign (rain, apples, and Christmas), some cliched (the smell of napalm in the morning), and some downright creepy (burning ants, the kill, and death).

On closer inspection, the creepy ones are not so much macabre as artsy-fartsy. The Smell of the Kill is a comic play and The Smell of Burning Ants is a short film. The smell of wine and cheap perfume is people searching for the lyrics to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. Searches for the smell of death are a mixed bag: people seeking Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics and others who simply haven’t discovered FN’s I Smell Dead People feature.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Erotic Laundry Hamper: T-shirts and Testosterone

He held the panties in his hand and continued to kiss her, leaving her moist and panting. Then he turned away and buried his face in the panties, in the nightgown, wrapped the stockings around his penis, laid the black silk dress over his belly. The clothes seemed to have the same effect as a hand. He was convulsed with excitement.

[From Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin.]
It’s tempting to think of the Basque’s response to the scent of Bijou’s clothes as nothing more than a personal kink, another odd sexual habit that Anaïs Nin was directed to write about by her lubricious pornographic patron.

But the arousing effect of feminine body scent is a resonant theme in literature and locker room—it seems to address something fundamentally biological in a vaguely primate way.

Sensory psychologists—much to the distaste of a certain perfume snob and his pedestrian second spouse—have given lots of attention to the links between smell and sex. Direct olfactory evaluations show that female body odor varies across the menstrual cycle. Men find BO from women in the luteal phase of the cycle less pleasant than BO from women in the follicular (i.e., fertile) phase.

The possibility that men can sniff their way to tactically useful information about a woman’s reproductive status throws a wrench into the conventional wisdom that human females are, in the technical jargon, “concealed ovulators.” But that’s a story for another day.

We focus here on the first study to examine the physiological effect of female BO on men. It’s by Florida State University psychologist Jon Maner and his student Saul Miller and is set for publication in the journal Psychological Science.

The experimental design is simplicity itself. Relevant odors were collected by having nubile women wear T-shirts to bed at different times in their cycle—ovulatory and nonovulatory. Male physiological response was measured by having a guy drool in a tube before and after plunging his face into one of the worn T-shirts. A standard radioimmunoassay quantified the testosterone in the spit.

The results of Miller and Maner’s first experiment were suggestive but not conclusive—post-sniff testosterone was higher in men who had smelled ovulatory T-shirts than in men who had sniffed nonovulatory ones. The data left open the possibility that the difference was due to nonovulatory shirts decreasing testosterone during the 15 minute course of the test.

The researchers ran a second study that included a clean (control) T-shirt condition and more precise estimation of menstrual cycle phase. Once again, post-sniff testosterone was significantly higher in men who smelled ovulatory T-shirts compared to nonovulatory and control shirts (which didn’t differ). Even more compelling: testosterone levels were a curvilinear function—an upside down U shape—of the odor donor’s ovulatory phase. In other words, post-sniff testosterone was highest for shirts worn exactly at ovulation, and it decreased with the number of days before or after ovulation.

Miller and Maner cautiously provide a laundry list of caveats, the most important being that the ovulatory odor cue does not increase a guy’s testosterone—it only prevents the decrease that happens after sniffing a fresh or nonovulatory shirt. Still, this first-ever demonstration of a sexually-relevant endocrinological response to female BO opens the door to some potentially cool work on scent-driven mate-seeking behavior and eroticism in men.

Somewhere out there Anaïs Nin is smiling.

Has the Bloom Come Off the Corpse Flower Fad?

Reporters usually jump at the chance to do on-air reaction shots to bad smells. Milwaukee’s Channel 12 ran B-roll. ‘Nuff said.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Smelly Web Indexes: January 17, 2010

For the week ending January 17, 2010:
The Solo Blog Index
Close: 112
Change: +2 
Big movers: FirstNerve +17%, IndiePerfumes +14%,
AnyasGarden +11%, KatiePuckrikSmells -10%

The Team Blog Index
Close: 123
Change: +3
Big movers: Perfumedarosanegra +5%

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 78 
Change: -8 
Big movers: Sniffapalooza -15%


Only six of the nineteen sites on the Solo Blog Index gained this week, but they were enough to pull the average up after last week’s loss. The Team Blog Index pulled out a second straight weekly gain. After rebounding last week, the Corporate & Community Site Index dropped back to its level of two weeks ago, pulled down by Sniffapalooza.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ISDP: The Kill Bill Edition

It’s the thirteenth of the month again; the usual caveats apply. Only the morbidly curious should continue reading . . .

This is not your typical apartment complex murder revealed by smell:

An upstairs neighbor told Hawaii News Now that there was a foul odor coming from the unit, so he opened the unlocked door, looked inside, and found the resident with two samurai swords through his chest.
Just before Christmas in Southeast Washington, D.C., “neighbors complained about a foul odor” in an apartment house. Building engineers tracked the source to an apartment which they entered. They found the body of 16-year-old local boy who had been shot to death.

The body of a 52-year-old woman missing from Huffman, Texas was found when volunteers from the Equusearch group “noticed red hair and a foul odor coming from a large storage locker.” Turns out the victim was “the sister of a veteran Equusearch volunteer.” Weird, in a self-referential sort of way.

Finally, for all you CSI fans an esoteric bit of data about the dilatory effect of perfume on blowfly oviposition. Field studies show, and lab experiments confirm, that several common household products tend to repel blowflies from laying eggs on decaying rat and mouse corpses. The implication is that forensic entomologists would underestimate the post-mortem interval if the deceased was wearing fragrance, or to be precise,  30% patchouli oil in alcohol base by Devineau.

You can bet on this becoming a key plot point in an upcoming episode of CSI: Grasse.

P.S. Be sure to visit the updated ISDP Interactive Map.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quick Sniffs

Unilever gets a Facebook full of grief. Consumers don’t like it when you screw around with an iconic brand fragrance

This story stinks in so many ways.

Are scent detection dogs the answer to everything? Sometimes it seems that way.

Neil Pendock’s inner Perfume Head is now completely off the leash.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Smelly Web Indexes: Reading the Ticker

For the week ending January 10, 2010:
The Solo Blog Index
Close: 110
Change: -3
Big movers: AnyasGarden -18%, Vetivresse -9%

The Team Blog Index
Close: 120
Change: +11
Big movers: I Smell Therefore I Am +23%

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 86
Change: +8
Big movers: TheDryDown +12%

Introducing the First Nerve Smelly Web Indexes

Everyone agrees that the Internet is changing how people relate to perfume. Industry interests—fashion brands, consumer goods companies, fragrance houses and ad agencies—no longer control the conversation. Instead, they compete with a host of amateurs who critique every new launch and reformulation.

The sheer number of these new voices is staggering. So is their stylistic diversity—ranging from well-informed and well-written to the olfactory equivalent of cat-blogging by shut-ins. The fragrance blogosphere is still in its formative years and a Darwinian competition for page views is underway that will determine which voices readers are paying attention to and which ones they are ignoring.

Is there any way to measure the ups and downs of this marketplace of opinion? This is something I’ve pondered as a participant and as numbers-oriented behavioral scientist. Now, after months of data collection and tinkering, I offer my quantitative assessment of the fragrance blogosphere: the First Nerve Smelly Web Indexes.

The FN Smelly Web Indexes consist of the Solo Blog Index, the Team Blog Index, and the Corporate & Community Index. Each one tracks the Alexa traffic rankings of a cluster of representative web sites on a weekly basis, beginning August 9, 2009. The starting value of each index is set to 100. A higher index value means the average rank of the component blogs has risen. (Think by analogy of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Dow Jones Transportation Average, the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index, etc.)

The Solo Blog Index

This index is based on nineteen single-author blogs, some focused exclusively on perfume, others on broader topics of scent-related history, culture and science. Here are the blogs used to compile this index:

Scented Salamander (élène Wagner in Paris.
Bois de Jasmin Fragrance chemist Victoria Frolova in Eastern USA.
Perfume Shrine Bronze Age historian, archeologist and fragrance fan Elena Vosnaki in Greece.
1000 Fragrances Fragrance historian and writer Octavian Sever Coifan in Paris.
Nathan Branch US-based luxury goods and fragrance commentator Nathan Branch.
Grain de Musc Paris-based fragrance writer Denyse Beaulieu.
+ Q Perfume Perfume fan Simone Shitrit in Brazil
Katie Puckrik Smells US-based perfume reviewer & videoblogger Katie Puckrik.
Ayala’s Smelly Blog Artisan perfumer Ayala Sender, Vancouver, B.C.
Pink Manhattan Independent singer-songwriter Sali Oguri in New York.
Bitter Grace Notes Free-lance writer Maria Browning in Tennessee.
Vetivresse Brooklyn-based fashion advertising copywriter and wine and fragrance aficionado Christopher Voigt.
GlassPetalSmoke Smell- and taste-focused commentary by New York City-based marketing and communications specialist Michelle Krell Kydd.
First Nerve Avery Gilbert, NJ-based smell scientist, consultant and author.
Anya’s Garden Natural perfumer and fragrance blogger Anya McCoy, Miami Shores, Florida.
Olfactarama Fragrance reviews and reflections on scent by “Olfacta” in Atlanta.
Indie Perfumes Fragrance fan Lucy Raubertas in Brooklyn.
J’aime le parfum An anonymous, France-based (?) perfumer in training.
Les Tuileries “AlbertCAN,” a consultant with interests in perfume, olfactory experience and the humanities.

The Team Blog Index

Blogging is time-consuming. It’s much easier for a team of authors to produce a steady stream of traffic-attracting posts than it is for the solo practitioner. The five group blogs that comprise this index have consistently high Alexa rankings. They include:

Now Smell This Fragrance reviews, news, perfume shopping tips, new and upcoming fragrance releases and more by a seven-member team. Site editor is Robin K (From a “small town” in Pennsylvania), along with Angela S, Erin T (Toronto), Jessica M (art historian, NYC), Kevin S, Marcello A, and Pia C.

Perfume Posse “Coast-to-coast fragrance coverage in the U.S.” by a three-member team: Patty (“Rocky Mountains”), March (D.C.) and Lee (Suffolk, England) aka Leopoldo on fragrance bulletin boards.

Perfume Smellin’ Things Perfume reviews and discussion of all matters fragrance-related. Team members Marina Geigert in NYC along with Tom, Marian, Donna, Marla, etc.

Perfume da Rosa Negra Brazilian fragrance blog by Cristiane Gonçalves aka Cris Rosa Negra and contributors Italo Wolff and Dâmaris Silva.

I Smell Therefore I Am A two-person fragrance blog by writer/film maker Brian, and former American Idol contestant Abigail in New Mexico.

The Corporate & Community Site Index

This index tracks performance of scent-related sites that, while they may contain blog posts and commentary, are set up as online communities and portal-style resources. Tracking them in a separate index seems more fair than mixing them in with solo and group blogs. It also provides a measure of Web-wide interest in things olfactory. Online fragrance reference guide with consumer reviews, industry news and articles. An interactive community founded by Grant Osborne and run by him and Danielle Cooper. Based in London. A compendious perfume site run by the Swiss-based fragrance house Firmenich.

The Drydown A constantly updated portal to “the scented net.” The more recent brainchild of Grant Osborne in London.

Sniffapalooza Event-based online group of fragrance aficionados, founded by Karin Dubin and Karen Adams. Located in New York.

What Do the Indexes Tell Us?

Here’s what the first 23 weeks of data reveal:

The Solo Blog Index sank as low as 82 in August, then climbed steadily back to hover in the 130 to 140 range until just before Christmas, after which it sank back toward its initial levels. It finished this week at 110.

The Team Blog Index followed a similar pattern but began to under-perform the SBI in late October. An uptick the past two weeks brought it to a higher finish at 120.

The Corporate & Community Sites Index moved sideways in a narrow range until November, when it began a long decline. It touched bottom at 70 on December 27, 2009 and rebounded to finish today at 86. A temporary ranking decline at seems to account for these results.

Going forward I’ll have lots more to say about the performance of specific blogs and how they contribute to changes in the indexes. 

Exit question: Do the SBI and TBI results reflect the pre-Christmas surge in perfume interest seen on Google Trends for “perfume”?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Germany Joins the Smelly Stamp Club

This week Germany’s Deutsche Post issued its first stamps with microencapsulated scent. The series of four plays it safe thematically and olfactively by celebrating domestically-grown fruits: apples, strawberries, lemons and huckleberries. (The Russians went fruity in 2003.)

Meanwhile last May, France tried to out-do Switzerland’s 2001 chocolate issue by releasing an entire 10-stamp candy bar. As they say at La Poste, Le bloc est imprégné d’une senteur chocolat.

German fruit and French chocolate? What’s wrong with the old cultural stereotypes? I’d love to smell a hoppy Oktoberfest commemorative or an airmail stamp celebrating the buttery baked croissant.

As for the money-losing U.S. Postal Service—they just missed a huge opportunity. Imagine a 75th birthday stamp for Elvis that smelled like a fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich.

Ummmm . . . bacon.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The FirstNerve BurrOmeter: 1872 for Men by Clive Christian

Name drops: 2

Geza Schoen
Patricia Choux
Bonus points:
Perfumers: 2
French: 1
Tepid modifiers: 7
slightly offbeat
rather good
perhaps should top the list
almost minty
nearly edible
a slight nod
approximates its warmth
Asian bonus points: 2
Laotian benzoin
Japanese yuzu
Total BurrOmeter reading for 1872 for Men by Clive Christian: 14 milliburrs

Outlook: Lowest milliburrs ever. Lukewarm at $182 an ounce. Heavy weather ahead.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Reason That They Had to Carry Harry to the Ferry

I think the human nose evolved to serve the human mouth. Our olfactory abilities are optimized for close-in smelling and for the retro-nasal savoring of food aroma. Our species-typical behavior of cooking and spicing food is part of our long evolutionary history of fire use.

Richard Wrangham’s idea that cooking has had a major impact on human evolution is, I believe, on the right track. In reviewing his new book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, I quibbled that he gives relatively little attention to the olfactory aspect of his thesis. (Wrangham later assured me in an email that it’s something he wants to pursue.)

Cooking produces a spectrum of novel smells which, in turn, may have shaped the evolution of our olfactory receptor genome. I speculated in What the Nose Knows that the invention of deliberately fermented alcoholic beverages added yet more notes to this Darwinian symphony of food aroma.

Now comes University of Pennsylvania “biomolecular archaeologist” Patrick McGovern, who studies the chemical traces of alcoholic beverages in prehistoric pottery. According to an article by Trey Popp in The Pennsylvania Gazette
[McGovern] thinks our fondness for alcoholic beverages has been a profound force in human history. One of archaeology’s most fascinating unsettled questions concerns which foodstuff was more consequential in civilization’s early stages: bread or beer? With each ancient grog he has uncovered—particularly a 9,000-year-old specimen from China’s Yellow River Valley, which represents the earliest known alcoholic beverage—McGovern has added evidence to the tipplers’ side of the ledger. He believes the quest for fermented beverages was mankind’s primary motivation for domesticating grain-bearing plants.
*Burp*. Wine and beer fans will definitely want to read the whole thing and perhaps get McGovern’s new book, Uncorking the Past.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Olfactory Design: David Ricart and The 21st Century Love Letter

Photo: David Ricart

A year ago I got an email from a young graphic designer named David Ricart. He had heard me speak at the New York Academy of Sciences and now, for his MFA thesis at the School of Visual Arts, he wanted to do a project on scent communication using body odor.

His idea was to create a system for the exchange of personal body scent that would leverage the intimate emotional power of scent on behalf of people who are physically separated. Ricart asked me for some advice on collecting and sampling BO. Since his concept sounded weird enough to be good I was happy to do so. 

Ricart recently wrote again to let me know he had completed and successfully defended his thesis. The BO project became TOLO: The 21st Century Love Letter. It uses cleverly modified T-shirts and a mailing tube to provide a new channel of remote, interpersonal, chemosensory communication.

David Ricart has transformed a routine scientific method for collecting BO into a creative product concept with an appealing visual design that addresses a real psychological need.

Very cool.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Perfume by the Numbers: Seasonal Search Engine Activity

A recent post on peri-solstice perfume mania got me thinking about seasonality in fragrance use. Being a scientist, I love data—so I started monkeying around with Google Trends to see if I could find anything interesting. And I did.

Trends produces a Search Volume Index for any search term you give it. By default it spits back a weekly data series from January 4, 2004 to the present. It also scales the data; in other words it sets the average search traffic volume to 1.0. Episodes of heavy search volume appear as peaks on the resulting graph. You can also view results country by country.

The first thing I did was look at searches for “perfume” in the United States. A glance a the resulting graph (above) shows three annual features. First, a huge Christmas traffic surge. The uptick begins the first week in November and peaks just before Christmas (December 12 to 20). Note: these weekly results are dated each Sunday; I assume they are week-ending dates, but Google is not explicit about this.

Second, a small but reliable bump in search traffic preceding each Valentine’s Day (February 14th).

Third, a small but reliable bump in search traffic preceding each Mother’s Day (the second Sunday in May). I’ve dated each peak and (in parentheses) the start of the pre-Christmas uptick.

Here’s a close-up that’s easier to read: 

Peaks in search activity around Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day confirm what is common knowledge in the industry—that the majority of perfume sales occur in the time span of these three holidays. Presumably the data reflect people (mostly guys?) looking online for the right gift.

How general are these American results? The graph below shows the American data along with those from big English-speaking countries with a common heritage: Canada, Australia and the UK. 

All three annual features—peaks at Christmas, Valentine’s and Mother’s Day—appear in each country. (The Christmas peak is clear in the image; you’ll have to take my word for the others. I couldn’t find a way to import hi-res graphs directly into Blogger . . .)

What about a non-Anglophone country, like France? I ran the results for “parfum” and plotted them (in violet) next to the American “perfume” data:

Again, all three annual peaks show up. There is one anomaly: while the Christmas and Valentine’s Day peaks overlap perfectly, the French Mother’s Day peak either lasts longer or begins later than the American peak. I’m not sure why. Is Mother’s Day celebrated in France? Does it have the same date? Or is something else going on? I’d love to hear from readers who have an idea about this.

Elsewhere Italy, Spain and Mexico all show Christmas peaks; China, Hong Kong and Japan do not. 

The cool thing about the enormous sample sizes available from Google Trends is that you can pick up search responses to unique events. Germany, which has an annual Christmas peak but no Valentine’s or Mother’s Day peaks, had an enormous one-time surge in “parfum” search that peaked on September 10, 2006. The German release date of the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, based on the original German novel by Patrick Süskind, was September 14, 2006. In the graph, German results are in green, American in blue.

UPDATE January 2, 2010

In the comments reader Christopher points out that the UK does not celebrate Mother’s Day on the US date, rather Mothering Sunday on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. From 2004 to 2009 this occurred between March 2 and March 22. US Mother’s Day in contrast ranged from May 1 to May 7. 

I went back and examined the USA and UK data more closely. The Christmas and Valentine’s Day peaks coincide perfectly but there is nothing in the UK data corresponding to the US Mother’s Day peak. I was too hasty in eye-balling the graphs when I wrote the original post.

But then I checked the Laetare Sunday dates for 2004 to 2009 against the raw UK data. In each case there is a small blip in traffic the preceding week. Here’s a close up of 2008, US in blue, UK in turquoise:

The Mothering Sunday blip is just to the right of the Valentine’s Day peak. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Bottom line: there is no pre-Mother’s Day peak in the UK but there is a faintly detectable blip before Mothering Sunday.

Also: Thanks to reader Ed C. for solving the problem of the missing Mother’s Day peak in France—another anomaly explained by the liturgical calendar! Details in the comments.