As they say: you can take the girl out of the country; you cannot take the country out of the girl. I am perpetuating the long tradition of eccentric behaviour by English women incomprehensible to women elsewhere, especially those in France. This behaviour includes washing your hair before going to the hairdresser (would not want them thinking you walk around looking like that), hoovering and clearing up before the cleaner comes (would not want them to think you live like a slattern as well as look like one), and shaving your legs before a wax.
This week my personal version of this eccentricity was to obsess about getting rid of an outbreak of spots and improve my complexion before going for a facial. The French equivalent of Murphy's Law (I have no idea what it is called but it probably takes a pop at Belgians) means my skin looks as if I have caught the pox. My eyebrows need a good pluck and my nails...hmmm, like the war they are best not mentioned. I have not done any pampering for ages and I would not be doing it now except my stepdaughter very generously bought me a treatment for my birthday a few months ago. I am booked into a chic 'beauty and spa centre' a few paces from the Elysée presidential palace. I do not know the place but the address shrieks of money; it would have been on the top of Robespierre's list of 'places to pay a visit', for sure, and not for a moustache wax either. I will walk in and they will think: "Bag lady". I try to make up for the nails, a dead giveaway, by putting on my best bra, a well-cut shirt and several layers of foundation to cover the spots. I wonder if my legs are suitably smooth, then tell myself if my face has sagged that far I need more than epilation - or a 30 minute facial for that matter. I even polish my shoes to make up for the fact they are flat and practical as opposed to vertiginous and elegant. I cannot believe I am getting so wound up about going for a facial.
French women have, on the whole, a more holistic and applied approach to grooming. It is tosh to suggest they are all elegant and stylish, though if you spent your time in some of Paris's chic Left Bank arrondissements filled with women of a certain age, social class and wealth, you might be under the mistaken impression they are. (This would be like thinking all London women looked like those shopping at Harvey Nicks). No, these women clearly do not worry about spots, sprouting brows or scuffed shoes. But even young Parisiens seem to find the time and money to spend on their appearance. Around where we live, which is far from chic, there is an extraordinary profusion of nail bars and beauty salons and they are usually packed.
In the end, I go to the salon and it is fine. If the very young and beautifully made-up and manicured girl at the salon thinks "Bag lady" she has the good grace not to let it show. I hide my nails under a towl and apologise for the spots. The best bit is being left to lie for a few all too brief minutes in a darkened room, face plastered in perfumed goo, transported to a tranquil glade full of twittering birds and tinkling water - the same tranquil glade recreated by 'relaxation' music in beauty salons the world over. Afterwards I was walking past chic shops in the chic street in the chic arrondissement feeling I had scrubbed up well after all, when I realised the beautician had taken off all my make-up. I know, obvious really. This is not a good look. "Bag lady", I thought burying a spotty nose in my scarf and scuttling past the presidential palace.
Why I love Belgium
2 days ago