I decided pretty much straight away - for several practical reasons - that for this particular birthday boy, I'd focus my attention on État Libre D'Orange. He said he liked the idea of wearing something smoky, so we started with a sample of Jasmin Et Cigarette.
"Urrgh," he immediately exclaimed, "that's got that cat stuff in it!"
It took me less than a moment to realise that his mind had taken him straight back to an evening when he was mildly traumatised by the contents of a bottle in my lab... a bottle containing some synthetic civet.
"That's probably the jasmine you're smelling," I said. "It's quite animalic, which makes it similar to the civet in some ways."
"Yeah, whatever. It stinks!"
I thought we ought to try smokiness of a different sort, so I reached for my vial of Fat Electrician.
"It's... interesting," he said, "but... I don't know... it's sort of spicy... but not in a good way. I don't mind spicy, but not this sort of spicy."
"It's not exactly spicy. What you're smelling is vetivert, which has a smoky, woody, grassy, sweaty feel to it."
"I don't want to smell of sweat!"
"No, no, it doesn't exactly smell of sweat, but it has a sort of sweaty aspect."
"No. It's spicy. And I don't like it. What's next?"
I decided to lighten things up a little with Antihéros.
His response was immediate. "No way! That's horrible. What is that stuff?"
"You tell me. Try to describe it."
"It makes you think of old ladies, right?"
"Old ladies? Why?"
"Because it's basically a lavender. And the usual English response to lavender is to say that it smells of old ladies."
"I don't know about old ladies, but I don't like it."
I had to consider my next move carefully: head further into conservative territory or change direction completely? I opted for the former with Je Suis Un Homme.
"Umm... that's not bad," he said, "is it... is it lemony?"
"Yup, well done, it's got a very strong citrus aspect to it. Do you like it?"
"I'm not sure. I don't think so, to be honest. It's a bit... a bit ordinary, maybe?"
"Okay, fine. How about this?" I reached for Secret Weapon #1: Rien.
"Woah, that's good!" He closed his eyes and breathed in for several moments. "That's really spicy. And Arabic! I like that."
"I don't know. It just is." The borderlines of his olfactory landscape were becoming increasingly clear: citrus was pleasant but boring; strong florals were stinky; smoky woods were spicy in the wrong way; but leathery spices got the green light because his memories of growing up in the Middle East made him read them as exotic and exciting.
"Okay," I said, "so if you like that one, how about this?" I handed him Secret Weapon #2: Tom Of Finland.
"Wow! That's excellent! That's even more Arabic. It's... really spicy."
"And woody?" I wondered if he'd detect the saffron-sandalwood accord.
"I don't know. It's just... Arabic, I guess. I don't know if it's woody. What does woody mean, anyway?"
I tried to explain, but in the end we decided it would be easier if I just gave him all the samples so that he could wear them to work and 'live with them' for a while.
After a few days he decided that although Rien was his favourite, he wouldn't be able to wear it very often because all his colleagues had found it too overpowering. Despite my attempts to persuade him to stick to his guns, he decided to go for what he saw as the safer - but still suitably 'Arabic' - option: Tom Of Finland.
To conclude, I should reveal that he still doesn't know the real names of any of the perfumes he was trying: I presented them to him anonymously in order to prevent any influence caused by images of white petals, obese maintenance men etc. So when he opens his present next week and sees the packaging in all its glory, I wonder whether he'll still find it Arabic... or woody?