It's Monday again and time to play "same time last year". It's fun for me to read these articles from my first days in France. I've actually learned so much since then even though it often doesn't feel that way.
There are apparently several things you need in order to be a woman in Aix en Provence. The first and most horrifying thing on the list seems to be no body fat! Mind you, I’m just an observer and a new one at that but these Aixois women have really got it going on. Apparently they are not eating brats and bread slathered in butter because they look great! However, this is just not an option for me...there are too many delicious things to savor for me to even consider taking off any weight. The true dilemma will be not putting any on. But there are other items that are most necessary in order to fit in that I think I can accomplish.
Next on the list are the boots I mentioned in an earlier article. I wear a size 9 ½ or a 41 in European sizes. A size 41 is the largest shoe you can find in this town! Period. End of story. Finding the boots was my first mission and I took it very seriously. The first week, after days and days of behaving like a hound on a scent, I found a pair that actually fit my apparently massive feet and went over my obviously enormous calves with enough room to spare to tuck in my jeans. Fashion dilemma number two...solved.
The third essential for an Aixois woman are skirts and dresses of all kinds. Back to the size issue. When I buy jeans at home with a "European size" they are a 30. My skirts are a size 8 or 10 in American sizes. How does a 30 become a 40 simply by crossing an ocean? And how can that be fair? My friend Marcia told me to start looking for stores that cater to the Dutch or the Germans. Which makes sense since I am of good German stock but the remark brought on a burst of nervous laughter!
I finally found the skirt and christened it "The Regulator". I don't have a scale so I decided this skirt was going to have to be my measurement of size. There is not one single centimeter of extra space in this puppy and I vowed to don it each morning as a test. A baguette test, so to speak. It holds the first space in my closet and we continue our battle daily.
With the dresses, one needs hose. Now, at this time, with no language ability at all, it seemed impossible for me to find panty hose here. The only hose that I could find were thigh highs, which I wear at home with the right dress. However, thigh high tights under "The Regulator" can cause some serious topographical issues that I was not sure were an option. I believe this takes us back to point number one regarding body fat. So I bought what I could with some serious misgivings about the possible results.
Lastly....underwear. Now I haven't personally seen any woman in her underwear but it's apparently a big deal. There are lingerie shops everywhere and they are full of women and women and their men. It's seems to be some sort of national sport....finding the most perfect, sexiest bra and heaven forbid you don't buy the matching panties (my friend Mary has been on to this for years. I just never paid attention!) I've been told that it's not necessarily an issue of being seen in your skivvys (I'm sure just calling them skivvys is some sort of sacrilege) but it's how they make you feel. You are not dressed unless your underthings are just right. And one should always be ready for anything. Apparently. (This brings up an entirely different story on love and sex in France but I'll save that for later).
Anyway, in keeping with this cultural fashion journey that I'm on, I began shopping for " the underwear". Back to the size thing. When did a 34 become a 90. I’m serious! Why can’t sizes translate in a kinder manner? I'm not only big and blond here, but if you add up all my new numbers…well, I’m just not going to add them up! This little problem will probably be the most difficult. And the most intriguing. Bye bye flesh colored bra that doesn't pinch or show through my t-shirts. Bye bye cotton granny panties. It's time for the new me!
As it turns out, one pair of stockings that I bought were actually tights. A bit large (I bought the largest size considering all that I have learned) but they worked, so the following week The Regulator and I went out for a test run.
I felt pretty darned cute in my new outfit and so happy to be out of my jeans. Perhaps I was strutting because of it, I don't know. But I actually got noticed. The problem is, I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. You see, I was quacked at. Yes, quacked at! Now, when I was young I received a wolf whistle now and then. I have since been growled at (which was also a new experience but I was pretty certain what it meant). However, I have never been quacked at and am not sure if it means " Hey baby, you're waddling" or "Hey baby, your tail feathers look pretty good in that skirt". More research is in order.
The too-large tights and the no-extra-room skirt caused a bit of a wardrobe malfunction, however. By the time I got to Cours Mirabeau, I had discovered the skirt had worked its way halfway around my body. It has a decorative zipper on the front so it was obvious I was all turned around. I would readjust, walk a little ways, and the process would start all over again. It was a bit like a cork and a corkscrew. I was actually thinking that rather than readjusting all the time, I could just try walking backwards so it would turn itself back!
The underwear saga continues but all other immediate items have been checked off the initial list. Except for that pesky little French language thing.
Originally published in The Wittenberg Enterprise, February 2009