I was one of those people. One who gets a job in Paris but can’t speak French. When I arrived, I pronounced “J’ai” as “J’eye” and communicated by shrugging.
But I needed to interact. With a beautician. I’d been living in Southeast Asia and was accustomed to Thai massage, steam-clean-your-pores facials, and nail care.
I started optimistically: at a swanky “Institute of Beauty” beside Place Vendôme. I figured being at such an upscale address that someone might speak English or at least offer a bilingual waxing menu.
I figured wrong.
The woman in charge was the age of a young mom’s mom—say, 50-65—wearing head-to-toe white and clearly opting for cigarettes over food. No paper-and-elastic knickers (culottes) handed out for the shy. If the shy didn’t like it they could leave hairy.
How to convey how much of a bikini wax I wanted?
The menu offered “maillot simple,” “maillot échancré,” and “maillot intégral.” I was tempted to go “simple,” but really wanted the “ticket de métro” I’d heard of—where they leave you a nice runway of fuzz left but you don’t end up landing in Brazil. A middle of the road waxing, but leaving the middle of the road well alone.
I asked for a “maillot échancré” and mounted her padded white table, very glad for the frosted-glass windows so I wasn’t some butt-naked sideshow for shoppers en route to Angelina’s for a hot chocolate.
Her request to make my legs like a frog’s was a little exposing, but okay, and I learned a new word: “grenouille.” I wondered how often frogs normally sat around exposing themselves but had no way to debate this once the ripping commenced.
It was when the woman made me curl my legs up over my head the way you do in Gymnastics that I got a little uncomfy. But it was hard to talk past my shins.
To my badly-phrased protests and questions, the woman snorted, “Mais, vous avez des poils!” I wracked my brain to understand but all my blood was in my head by then. If only I’d paid attention in middle-grade French, but I had the feeling this situation wasn’t covered.
What were these “poils” she said I have? “Fur”? As in, an animal’s coat? Her wooden stick with hot pink wax trailing all over my thighs didn’t help. I soon learned two bad things: not only was she waxing my cracks, but the wax was a too hot. After two shocking rips of cloth to privates, she used a fingernail to flick off stubborn clumps. Tuffs of my fur embedded in hot pink sludge lay on the table’s edge.
When I got home I memorized my most important French phrase, “Cette cire de merde est trop chaude, Madame.” Translation: What the hell, lady.
This breed of beautician isn’t uncommon in Paris. She’s up there with those hairdressers who decide how much they want to trim off your hair, no matter what length you mime. These hair haters need counseling, but instead they compliment you on your bravery while endlessly tweezing under 1,000-Watt lamps. Their job is to enlighten you on your “fur” no matter how pitifully you hobble when you leave.
After Madame VousAvezDesPoils, I dialed back the waxing to “maillot simple”—a short back and sides. A mere trim. No undercarriage stripping or crazy yoga poses to reach bits that didn’t want to be reached. Every time they showed me with a mirror to see if they’d gone far enough, it was always, “YES, you’ve gone far enough now let me down off your table de merde.”
Lizzie Harwood’s love of her home country, New Zealand, spills over into her writing, as evidenced by the vibrant and quirky stories she tells. That isn’t to say she doesn’t adore her adopted country, France, where she currently resides with her husband and two children. Lizzie’s Triumph: Collected Stories, launched in February 2015. When she isn’t writing, she’s neck-deep in editing. Visit EditorDeluxe.com, Lizzie Harwood Books on Facebook, and @lizziehbooks on Twitter for the latest.