The Perfumery

My skin was a huge issue for me, growing up. I got my first blackheads at the age of 8. I was the only kid in school in Norway to have blackheads way before everybody else. In fact, I left Norway at age 15, and so never saw any of my classmates with acne. It bothered me to have large-pored, oily skin in a country of smooth, normal skin, so I began my road to hell with Clearasil, and like any drug-addict looking for a bigger and better fix, finished up at a dermatologist’s and was introduced to the facial Threesome From Hell so many women are told is the only way to have good skin: Cleanser, Tonic, Moisturizer. The sort of products that are available at the cosmetic counters of your better department stores for an entire week’s wage.

In Norway, when I was a kid, we didn’t have cosmetic counters. Norway, instead, offered (and offers) the “Perfumery” (“perfymeri”).

These “perfumeries” sell the expensive stuff: $20 nylons, $50 lipsticks, $100 creams. Inevitably, the ladies who work there, are not young, not old, always made-up and looking flawless. They also have the same air as a maitre’d at a fancy restaurant – the kind where the color of your credit card had better be gold, not silver. “Yes? Skin care for one? I think we have a test jar opening. This way, please.” All very hushed and nice and serious.

When you’re pubescent and the only one in your class with bad skin – and have been dragged off to a few dermatologists (kind of medicalizing the whole thing, but at the time I felt awful about my skin), and end up needing to buy those special products at the Perfumery – being greeted by a woman doing a Western version of a geisha is not delightful. They never smile. They instead daintily open the tiniest jar with long fingers tipped with long and perfectly manicured nails (did I mention I also used to bite my nails?), dip in with a tiny spatula, dab a bit on you, wait to see your reaction, wait to see your skin’s reaction, then, with a molecular hint of a frown, say, “no, not this one,” and turn to some other exquisite, tiny jar.

What little pleasure in myself and my appearance would inevitably shrink to a size that could fit in half of one of those tiny jars. I ended up hating shopping in perfumeries.

The hate’s gone now, but not the memory, but I still won’t buy face care products or make-up in those stores. The same women with the same quiet, patronizing attitude still work there. (I kid you not. There’s one who’s been at a local shop for 25 years, and she doesn’t age; she just reapplies her make-up.) Just stepping inside one still makes me feel unkempt and in rags. What they do, have, though, is some really good costume jewelry. Since I have no traumas associated with that, I can happily hunt for jewelry looking like (relative) shit.

As for my skin: It’s still large-pored and has blackheads. Interestingly, one of those Threesomes From Hell is currently in my bathroom, but I bought that series from The Body Shop, so it doesn’t count. (All three parts also feel very good on my skin.) And after all of that torture in puberty, I end up with: Very few wrinkles. And, a lot of compliments.

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

2 replies on “The Perfumery”

I also have large pores. I have never bothered with any of the lotions and potions to try to minimize them. If people are going to scrutinize my face that closely, well, they just have their priorities wrong.


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