explanation of “very nice cologne”

A guy alerts his dorm mates that he has lost his “cologne.”  The dorm mates don’t even know he uses cologne, so they’re surprised, and ask what type it is.  He says, in English, “Six God”, which sounds like it might be some fancy foreign brand. In fact, he’s just referring to the very fragrant liushen bug repellent, which is both very common and very cheap.  Once everyone realizes exactly what “Six God” means, they’re speechless.

One reason that such a misinterpretation could realistically happen is that there is one broadly applicable Chinese word that can refer to cologne, perfume, and other similar fragrances.  This is xiang shui, which, broken down into its constituent parts,  simply means “fragrant water”.  Indeed, liushen could by some be considered a type of “fragrant water”.

There are some other culturally specific things to note about this text. Chinese college students often live six or eight to a room, which is why the “dorm mates” are answering one person.  In these living situations, they normally select a shezhang, or dorm room leader.

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