The paradoxical nature of the universe that we find ourselves in is evident (to me at least) in the apparent natures of France and England. France, for all its revolutions and killing of its monarchy some 200 years ago, is still a conservative nation. Fiercely proud of it’s language, culture and traditions. The English however are much more liberal and easy going around things yet we kept the most conservative and hierarchical power structure known to man. French conservatism shows itself to me in the boulangerie first of all. Vegetarianism is basically unheard of in France and it’s difficult to get a sandwich without some kind of pork in it. Just as its impossible to find an open boulangerie at certain times of the day. The tradition of a decent lunch break is one that is strictly adhered to. Dress codes are more conservative too. Not that I want to get into a critique of French fashions but they are less adventurous than England. Well the shops I’ve visited are.
The French are however much more intimate than the stand offish English, and not just the kissing. As an englishman who has only just got to grips with the now almost obligatory ‘man hug’, kissing is a veritable minefield of emotion and potential embarrassment. But cheek to cheeking (you don’t actually kiss as I found out early on!) is actually really nice. and the French are so laid back about it, about everything really, except driving! Where it’s every man (or women) to him/herself. Curiously on French roads there is a small but near fatal detail that if you are unaware of can be nasty. In some instances vehicles joining the road from the right have the right of way and just pull out in front of you! Other than that though the French are warm and kind and polite. For example, I stopped to ask for directions once and the gentleman made a point of walking round his car and shaking my hand and saying hello before telling me that I was on the right road. In England I imagine I’d be lucky to get eye contact ley alobe physical contact!
Back to the boulangerie, that bastion of French tradition, and to the woman who quite emphatically told me that “Nail polish is for girls!”. At least I think that’s what she said. Obviously she said it in French, so I barely understood, but it was definitely along those lines. And she was so insistent too “You’re not a girl! Are you a girl? No! You’re a boy!” she repeated more than once. Luckily she didnt see the skirt and tights as I was standing next to the counter
“Well I’m a man actually!” was what I wish I’d said but in my terribly weak and lacking in confidence French all I could manage, on top of ordering a sandwich, was a paltry “Pour quoi?” and “No!”
With time for reflection and writing in my mother tongue I’d like to say “Nail polish isn’t for girls (and women), it’s for nails, and as I have nails then it’s for me” Other quick witted and equally imaginary comebacks have been through my mind. Oh well maybe next time, when my French has improved. I admire her though, the woman in the boulangerie, she might have a traditional view on nail varnish (one not limited to France I’m sure) but she spoke her mind, which is refreshing. I think in England we (I) sit on far too much and don’t say anything far too often.
Where the sex divide once was, the gender divide now is. Things (like nail varnish and skirts) used to be divided along the lines of what genitalia you had dangling (or not) between your legs. Gender is more refined. Sex, man/woman, describes biology while gender, masculine/feminine, describes psychology. A woman can be masculine in some areas and feminine in others, and so too can men. Hence the nail polish.
I’m currently exploring beauty, and for many reasons I’m starting with womens clothes and make up. Parlty because that is what is available and partly because the images of beauty that I’ve seen my whole life are of feminine beauty, but men can be beautiful too. Can’t they? Looking at what men around the world are doing to the environment and other humans it might seem that men are struggling to be beautiful. Also I want to acknowlege that beauty isnt just about looks! That’s a part of it and a part that has been well over emphasised in our current paradigm. So it’s a starting point for me.
Much love and thanks for reading this far.
A Man in a Skirt