Thursday, 16 September 2010

Another Tale From Makeupalley: The "Burning Coal" Extras

I still have family staying, so will have to defer the rest of my trip report for a bit longer. Meanwhile, however, I have had another funny experience on Makeupalley in connection with a recent swap, which will only take a moment to relate...

The background to the story is that I was sending a swapper 20ml of Marc Jacobs Fig Splash in return for 10ml of Maison Kurkdjian APOM pour femme. As I had trouble figuring out what extras the swapper might like, I decided to send her 30ml of the Marc Jacobs instead, not least because I had a 30ml atomiser going spare.

When my package arrived containing the APOM, I was crestfallen to note that the atomiser used was only an 8ml, not a 10ml one. In fairness, it is an easy mistake to make, as the two atomisers look pretty similar, except that the 10ml one is taller than the 8ml by 3/4".

I wrestled long and hard with the issue, wondering whether it would be petty of me to mention the shortfall. And yet my 7.5ml of APOM (slightly underfilled to avoid spillages in transit) was just not "sitting well" with me, and I knew that if I didn't speak up, the matter would continue to fester. It might even end up spoiling my enjoyment of the perfume itself, because I would now associate it with being shortchanged.

So I wrote to the swapper and explained the situation, taking care to point out that I was sure it was an honest misunderstanding, as the atomisers are alike, and the exact capacity is not printed on them - which would be handy, come to think of it.

I received a very apologetic reply straight back from the swapper, who was clearly mortified at her mistake. She has relatively few tokens, so is doubtless keen not to blot her copybook at this early stage. She said she would send on the extra 2ml and I thanked her very much.

Imagine my surprise when I opened her package the other day to find not only a top up of c3ml of APOM, but a whole stack of other samples. She had in fact gone completely overboard in her retrospective generosity, and now I was the one who felt hugely indebted.

The photo is pretty fuzzy (taken from my phone for the sake of quickness), but the stash comprises:

APOM pour femme - 3ml

Samples of:

TDC Osmanthus
TDC Oriental Lounge
Prairie Life Threads Silver
Grandi Classici Tuberosa
L'Essenziere Estratto No 4
Byredo Rose Noire
Paneangell Aroma Vaniglia per dolci
Les Parfums de Rosine Rose Praline
WJ Neroli Absolute
L'Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu
ETRA (sic)
Aromatic Chypre (source unknown)

I am very pleased about the Oriental Lounge as I didn't have a sample of that, and while the others strike me as a fairly mixed bunch - including a few very obscure things by the looks of it - in terms of sheer quantity, I feel completely overwhelmed!

My first thought was that the swapper was getting her own back for my pernickety attitude by heaping burning coals on my head, as per the famous quote from Proverbs 25:

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

But on balance I think she is probably just embarrassed and trying to rectify an awkward situation, and most importantly head off the threat of the dreaded "negative token". Not that it ever entered my head to award her one of those, as I don't believe for a minute that there was any deliberate plan to diddle me.

Hmm....there again, she hasn't left ME a token yet...

Photo of atomisers from the Accessories for Fragrance website, photo of coals from


  1. That was an interesting read from a psychologist's view. A study on (sometimes conflicting) social norms, really.

    Incidentally, I visited Oswald's with Wordbird last week. We tried APOM remembering that you had raved about it and agreed that it was "so very V". :P

  2. I agree that the swapper was not trying to burn your head off. She was probably very embarrassed, end of. I don't think you should feel embarrassed, though, because you did do the right thing. I would remind her about the token, though. You still deserve it after all.

  3. Hi Potiron,

    I am glad you enjoyed the post on a different level!

    How nice that you and Wordbird had an outing to Osswald's - I would love to go back and catch some of the latest releases.

    APOM is indeed very me, along with some other things in similarly fuzzy vein like L'Eau Ambree, Guerlain 180 ans de creation, Tonka Imperiale etc...

  4. Hi lovethescents,

    Was interested to get your take on this. I suppose I should nudge the swapper about the token, even though I feel I have drained her perfume collection completely dry! It was not intentional on my part, certainly - she did massively overcompensate in my view...

  5. You don't know what's in her perfume collection. She was very kind to send you that massive haul and your token to her would reflect that. However, you were also kind, and held up your end of the deal, so a careful, "many thanks again, blah, blah, would you mind tossing a token my way, please?", couldn't hurt ;-)

  6. Oh yes, I referred to the swapper in my remark accompanying her token (amongst other positive things) as "unbelievably generous", and before I clocked your latest comment I already sent the swapper a message along the lines you we will see!

  7. That was very generous of her! Swapping diplomacy can clearly be a bit of a minefield. How are you like the Praline Rose?

  8. Hi Hebe,

    Minefield indeed...

    Rose Praline is a bit of a retro boudoir scent for me - powdery/metallic/sweet - but not my kind of thing really.

    My PC is currently in hospital following hard drive failure, so the remainder of the trip report may have to be shelved further! : - (

  9. PS I enjoyed the drydown of Rose Praline - quite soft and silky - even though this isn't a style of scent I really consider to be "me".

    Meanwhile, the swapper has left me a glowing token, so all's well that ends well...

  10. I would not have brought it up to the other person, since it was clearly an oversight. Did you really desperately need that additional 2 ml? I try to be as generous as possible in sending swaps and expect little in return, so everything I get can be a pleasant surprise. Don't you think that's a more comfortable place to come from? Methinks you deserve the "hot coals" because you were petty about the 2 ml in the first place. As for what she sent you, "Etra" is not a mistake. It is "Etro Etra," put out by the house of Etro. "Aromatic Chypre" is likewise not a mistake - it is put out by Pecksniff's.

  11. To set the record straight, in this instance I didn't think that "Etra" was a mistake, as it was clearly a pre-printed manufacturer's sample, as was the "Aromatic Chypre". I added the "sic" to clarify to anyone who was more familiar with the name of the house "Etro" (rather than all the individual scents in the line) that this was in fact the correct spelling. By "source unknown" I only meant that there was no indication of the brand name on the vial. Had I had more time I would have got round to googling it.

    You raise an interesting point about generosity and pettiness. Perhaps it was petty of me to feel disappointed at the missing 2ml, but it was against the backdrop of my having sent 30 ml unprompted instead of the agreed 20ml, so the disparity probably registered more. The swapper had included an extra with my original atomiser, though it is not unusual to receive several. As for whether I need the extra 2ml, I got through my previous sample of APOM surprisingly quickly, so I will have no trouble using the full 10ml - hard as this may be to credit given the size of my perfume collection overall. And to satisfy my own sense of fairness and make for "psychological equilibrium", if that is not too grandiose a term, the answer is also yes, I did "need" it. (ROP...)

    You are definitely a better person than me to be so unstintingly generous, while expecting little in return. My own experience - in relationships generally and also in the context of swapping - is that continued generosity that is not adequately reciprocated at least some of the time is not "a more comfortable place to come from" - not cumulatively, at any rate. It can feel good to start with, but in the long run you can feel taken advantage of.

    Perhaps Potiron, our psychologist friend from the top of the thread, would care to comment further on these conflicting social norms of which she speaks!

  12. flittersniffer, I can elaborate, if you wish.

    My point was exactly was has lead to this discussion. The described conflict you experienced between not wanting to be (or seem) petty (to others) and on the other hand the desire to restore fairness. So we have two norms in conflict:

    1.)"Do not make a mountain out of a molehill" (that's not to say that I think the 2.5 ml are a molehill. I'm just saying that this is what you might have thought. 'Should I really make a fuss over 2.5 ml? Or am I blowing things way out of proportion?' And no one could have found anything petty about mentioning the 25% shortage if you had received 75ml instead of 100ml although the proportion is the same.)

    2.)"Be fair" or perhaps "stand up for your rights" (which includes claiming what you deserve according to the rules of fairness)

    Now, in this case following the one norm means violating the other (hence they are "conflicting"). Now in this case you probably just weighed the consequences. You claimed your share of the deal at the cost of possibly seeming petty, because it seemed more important to restore fairness of the deal. In contrast, the anonymous poster - at least in this particular case - seems to weigh the first social norm heavier than the second.
    (To be continued in the next post)

  13. (continued)
    You mentioned that you felt a stronger need to restore the equilibrium possibly because you had ultimately given more than what you had agreed on giving. Interestingly, you followed a social norm that is possibly (by my experience) especially pronounced in the perfume community (as every community is a micro culture of its own develops distinct social norms), namely "you always include something extra in a swap". Or at least this is the norm that I've learned. I've never received exactly what I had bargained for. I've always received more (not "much more" but definitely "more"). In return I too always included some extras (complying with the norm of reciprocity).

    So, we do come to expect a lot in return by mere experience. Even though we are not supposed to expect much Another social norm: It is more blessed to give than to receive. Again, a norm the anonymous poster seems to endorse. And, again, a norm in conflict with our expectation of reciprocity (the equilibrium between giving and receiving). Incidentally, reciprocity is one of the most powerful social norms and if anyone is interested I recommend reading "Influence" by Robert Cialdini. But I digress.

    So, by receiving less (instead of more) than agreed upon prior to the swap, in a sense, the norm has been double violated. Because, if anything, we are implicitly expected to include more than we said we would (just as you did, flittersniffer). It's rather unexpected to receive just what we had asked for without something additional (mostly extra samples).

    The swapper now clearly complied with this norm by including a lot more than you had asked for (even overcompensating) and what you are feeling now is the norm of reciprocity giving you the nagging feeling of imbalance instead of the desired equilibrium. Personally, I don't think the swapper overcompensated to heap burning coals on your head. She probably just wanted to make sure, she followed all the social rules this time, so that you and others would consider swapping with her in the future.

    I guess, in a nutshell, what I meant to say is that where there are conflicting norms there is never a solution that seems right to everyone. In this case we have two conflicting views (flittersniffer's and Anonymous') both congruent with some social norms but not with others.

    From a objective point of view, you (flittersniffer) had the right to claim your share of the deal. And you did what you thought was best for you in this situation and because their is no "one best solution" in this case, that is the best one can do. And if something is bothering you (like the feeling of not having received what you should have) it is mostly a wise decision to address this subject. Else it will keep bothering you. Personally, I think you handled the situation quite well.

    I just hope I have not added burning coals to the discussion when I intended on cooling it down.

  14. Hi Potiron

    Thanks for your thorough analysis of the social norms involved in this incident. What a fascinating philosophical discussion this is proving to be! You are absolutely spot on with your comment about the "double violation", because a shortfall from the agreed amount does feel worse than a failure to obey the normal etiquette on MUA of giving over the odds.

    I think my different take on this from the swapper's may be down to how I view the swap scene on Makeupalley as a whole - is it a transactional marketplace, or a glorified forum for "random acts of kindness", which may be a bit hit and miss sometimes ie not always equally reciprocated? I am inclined to see it as the former, and the RAOKs come into play once the transactional element has been fulfilled ie sending the exact ml quantity agreed. I guess I do obey the Biblical norm of "doing unto others I would like to be done by" for I am always very careful to ship the full amount. In cases where I have underfilled to preempt a leakage in transit, I include an extra "top up" vial separately to the main atomiser.

    Staying with the theme of transactionality (if that is a word?), I was thinking too of a situation in a restaurant where you order a side dish of fries, say, and the waiter forgets to bring it. Do you say to yourself: "Oh, I am sure it was a genuine oversight on his part, and anyway I could do with losing weight and I have a couple of boiled potatoes on my plate already, so I didn't really need those chips", or do I summon the waiter and remind him about the missing order? Mostly I do the second.

  15. And there was another reason behind my actions which I have not yet mentioned, which was meant to be altruistic in its own contorted way...see what you think.

    You see, it occurred to me that the swapper might have bought a job lot of these 8ml atomisers - I buy bags of 50 of the things from Accessories for Fragrance - and that there was a good chance she would be involved in future swaps involving 10ml as the agreed quantity, and keep making the same mistake of sending 8ml every time, as that is the size she had in stock.

    So do I nip the error in the bud - given that she is new to swapping and understandably keen to build up her base of tokens and gain credibility - or leave her in ignorance of her mistake, and count on the generosity of the next half dozen or however many swappers she goes on to do 10ml deals with to also overlook the shortfall? Perhaps they all would do (being more evolved beings than me! : - )), but there is a chance that the odd one could react badly. As the swapper came across as a sweet and well-intentioned person, I genuinely wanted to protect her from possible future conflicts with other MUA members if she were to repeat this error.

    Strange, but true!

  16. This has become fascinating! How fabulous that we have a clinical psychologist on stand-by to assess these sorts of situations.

    It is interesting that some of swap to swap, and view the forums as fun but professional atmospheres whereas others "expect little in return". I'm afraid I can't afford to be that generous, although I wish, oh wish (!), that would be financially feasible for me. Maybe one day, but not this day! I always try to include extras in swaps, or at least have been since I noted that this is a social norm---at the beginning of my swapping 'career'.

  17. Hi lovethescents,

    You have raised another potentially important dimension to this debate - to what extent does a swapper's financial circumstances enable and/or predispose them to be generous?

  18. Exactly, flittersniffer. We can't assume that everyone has FBs of everything with endless decanting supplies either. Assumptions can be a dangerous thing...if not socially unfriendly.

  19. Indeed, norms and communication rules in our social environment (this includes online communities) is a fascinating subject with very complicated yet well rehearsed proceedures. I could write a novel about it (worry not, I shall resist;-)). And within our social norms some tend to be more salient than others. In the swapping scene for example the rule of being very careful in fulfilling your share of the swapping deal and if possible include more than you promised, is probably the most important rule to follow. And that makes perfect sense as this is necessary in order to ensure that swapping works in the long run (after all in the long run no one would swap in a community where you cannot be sure if you ever receive your share). The "giving more than necessary" ensures reciprocity as the other will feel inclined to do the same in return. And if both have sent their share at the same time, the one receiving more will feel indebted and make sure that he will include something extra in the next swap. That is already the beginning of a swapping relationship. ;-) Plus, it adds an amicable atmosphere to the community.

    As lovethescents has said, we are quite quick in discovering the prominent social norms. And we quite quickly become experts of the dos and don'ts in a particular context. When I had freely offered some of my newly aquired Lentisque on a Basenotes thread, I was pretty sure that anyone interested would automatically offer something in return (and this is, what lovethescents did, when she asked for a sample ;-)). But there is a rule forbidding us to explicitely ask for something in return. "Hey, I've just bought this bottle of Lentisque. Please, feel free to contact me if you'd like to try it. But don't forget to offer me an equal amount of something else in return" sounds rather arrogant. You would have to add a ";-)" to make sure everyone knew you were jesting. But of course you're not really jesting and everyone knows that you are not. It's almost a little crazy. But extemely intersting to me (I'm a social psychologist not a clinical one. So I'm more interested in social interactions than depression for example).

    So considering the importance of reciprocity in a swapping community it makes perfect sense to politely point out the mistake to someone who did not follow that rule (though we all agree that it was most likely by mistake that the rule was not followed). So your reasoning, flittersniffer does make sense.

  20. Hi Potiron

    Another insightful exploration of the norms involved here! I enjoyed your Lentisque story - you are right of course that there is also a "norm" requiring people not to overtly ask for reciprocity. : - )

    But I guess I was instinctively guided in my behaviour by the belief that reciprocity was THE dominant norm on MUA, and I did additionally want to protect the swapper from receiving flak from other members if she were to repeat the error in future swaps.

    And it is the norm of reciprocity and ensuring you complete your end of the bargain to the letter which also drives people to take enormous care with wrapping swap parcels, taping the tops of vials firmly shut and wrapping everything in cocoons of bubblewrap. For a leaky atomiser is no better than an original underfill in terms of failing to deliver what was agreed, however unintentional in either case.

  21. So you made a post just for me!!

    I only want to explain that I was really very embarrassed about my mistake, and that you didn't leave my collection dry at all....I've so many and many samples and decants that I was only pleased to give them to you...simply this....

    Bye bye Elmifra

  22. Well I never, you've actually found this! And see what a fascinating psychological discussion our swap sparked....

    I am so glad there are no hard feelings between us! I never thought it was anything other than a genuine mistake on your part - those 8ml and 10ml atomisers look mighty similar - and you went and made up for it beyond my wildest expectations..

    : - )