When you quit your job and move to a country where, upon arrival you don’t speak the language, it can be tricky to figure out just what to do with yourself during the day.
I chose to make babies. They’re cute and cuddly, they smell good and generally make you smile. From what I’m seeing around me, I think other expat Moms have had the same idea.
As much as we love these babies, there comes a time when we need a break, and want to be away from them, even if for just a few hours. This can be tough to manage when your family lives on the other side of the world and your local friends are in the same situation; why would they want to take your kids off your hands when they’re looking for a little break from their own rug rats?
In come the husbands. They stepped up to the plate to do some solo parenting while the wives had a day at the spa.
I was pregnant at the time, and there was no pregnancy massage table, so a massage for me was not an option. I could have opted for the mud wrap, but when you’re pregnant, and feeling big already, there’s nothing appealing about being rolled in mud. So I decided to get a manicure. If I was huge, at least I’d have nice nails.
Since there was a fairly big group of us that morning, we had the entire spa to ourselves. We felt like the ‘Real Housewives of Small-town Southern France’, even if it was just for that morning; we’d take it. We spent the next few hours bouncing between the jacuzzi, hammam, sauna, sitting in our spa robes nibbling croissants and taking turns going in for spa treatments.
When it came time for my manicure, I was ready to be pampered, dressed for the part in my crisp white spa robe and matching slippers. Don’t you just love those little slippers?
I follow the aesthetician into the treatment area, where we pass my friend Mary already set up at a manicure station, also getting her nails done. As I pass Mary, I flash a quick smile and a wink in her direction, wondering how she’s making out with her French small talk.
The woman brings me past my friend and the manicure station, down a hallway, into a dimly lit room with a massage table. Clearly there’s been a mistake. “Je suis ici pour mes ongles,” (I’m here for my nails) I tell her. She confirms that she knows and hands me the disposable, see-through panties that they give you for massages, telling me to take off my bathing suit and put those on.
Has my French really gotten that bad? She must not have understood me? I repeated myself, “Je suis ici pour mes ongles. Pour une manicure” She again confirms that she knows, tells me to put on the little panties and that she’d be right back.
Let alone in the room, I’m not sure what to do. If I’m here for my nails, why do I need to get undressed? After all, I’d just walked by Mary, fully clothed, and getting a perfectly normal manicure. But the thing about living in a foreign country and not being completely confident with the language, is that sometimes it’s just easier to ‘go with it’ instead of asking questions.
So off comes my bathing suit, and on go the tiny disposable panties. Which way is the front? Is it a thong? A double thong? This is always an issue and a great story for another time. But for right now, I’m too confused to care, and just throw them on, then put my robe back on, because why would I stand there naked to get my nails done. Right?
A moment later she’s back and instructs me to take off my robe. Okay, this time it’s got to be my French? Why does she want me to get naked? I try one more time, “Je suis ici pour mes ongles.”
She’s starting to get irritated with me, or maybe thinks I have a learning disability. With a sigh, she tells me that she knows and instructs me again, to take off my robe and give it to her. Not wanting to irritate her further, I pass her my robe and stand facing her, totally confused, slightly embarrassed and wearing nothing but the tiny see through panties she gave me. I was starting to think that I might be on a hidden camera show.
I’m instructed to climb up on the massage table, and as I lie on my back, completely exposed, my eyes are searching the room, looking for the hidden camera. But this is the nicest spa in town; there’s no camera, I’m just in Southern France, where nudity, apparently, isn’t really that big of a deal.
Eventually she covers me with a towel and does my entire manicure with me lying on the massage table.
When I make my way back to my friends they greet me with, “So, how was your manicure?”
“Naked.” I said with a deadpan face. “I was completely naked.”
Reading their faces was a quintessentially expat moment for me. I know you can’t judge an entire country on one person alone, but in this case, that’s exactly what I did.
The expressions on the faces of the friends before me spoke volumes for the countries they came from. I had looks of shock, and giant question marks across the faces of those that represented Canada, Scotland, Australia and the US. But then I glanced over at my French friend, and in perfect representation of her country, she simultaneously raises her eyebrows, shrugs her shoulders and lets out a blasé ‘pfff’ sound, as if I just told her something as boring as ‘I had eggs for breakfast.’
I still don’t know why I was given a naked manicure that day and I probably never will. Maybe she didn’t want me to have to stay in a wet bathing suit? Maybe she didn’t feel like waiting for Mary’s manicure to be done?
Whatever the case; this is life in a foreign country where you’re learning the language. You find yourself in strange situations that would never happen at home. Sometimes you can pull together the vocabulary to actually ask the questions you need to, and other times, you can’t be bothered; and you find yourself standing naked in a dark room with a strange woman, when all you wanted was to get your nails done.
Vive la France!