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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.

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