There is one thing about France that will probably surprise you – it is rife with lice. They are everywhere, and cross every social, racial, and economic boundry. As the French as fond of saying, “Lice are not snobs.”
The first time my twins caught lice was when we lived in Bordeaux. We lived in Margaux, actually, right in the center of the wine-making region. Our house was the west wing of a chateau – we were the west wing, the cellars were in the right wing, and the chateau was in the middle. I used to say we had the best view – we had a view of the chateau. There were two charming girls in the chateau who, every morning, went to with a chauffeur to a private school in Bordeaux while I drove my twins to the local public school. The girls, after school, came to my house and played with the twins. One day, I noticed that one of them had lice. I checked my sons. They had lice too. In fact, everyone did. The nice thing about lice is that they share easily. The bad thing about them is that they are tough critters and it takes a dedicated treatment to get rid of them.
Who had them first? The private school or the public school? Actually, as both the Directors said in apologetic tones, “Zee lice are every year in zee school.” All schools.
I was aghast. When I was a child in rural NY state, a strange nurse would come twice a year and walk with her heavy shoes up the rows as we sat, heads bowed, hands folded, waiting while she stopped and peered at our scalps, tilting our heads so she could see behind our ears and necks where the lice like to lay their nits. And if, by chance, a child had lice, it was a momentous event. The child was sent home, and all the other kids laughed and called him/or her ‘Booger head’ or worse. Having lice in the US was worse than having your father in prison. You were ostrasized.
The French were horrified when I told them this. Lice treatments are sold in every grocery store with the shampoo section. The bottles are pink and purple, and called pretty names like ‘Marie Rose’. There are ‘natural’ sprays to help keep the lice away made from lavender oil, and there are a plethoria of shampoos and creams destined to wipe out the infestation. Because that’s what it is. You never have a louse. You have lice.
And that’s what my daughter has.
It (They) came from her school. Her friend Justine’s mother called me and told me she was treating Justine. Or maybe it came from my friend’s daughter – she went to the south of France and stayed with a woman in a manor house, and the woman’s daughter had lice that she’d caught from school, most likely, and this woman’s daughter spent the night at our house. Or it could be from the pony club. My daughter tried on a helmet the other day. At any rate, we have bought a pretty pink bottle of ‘Marie Rose’, and I’m borrowing a nit comb from my neighbor (most everyone has at least one nit comb, but I admit to losing mine. We haven’t had lice in the house for years. This is the first time, actually, since we lived in London. Oh, yes, there were lice in England too. I bought lice shampoo in Harrods one day. My sister in law bet me they wouldn’t have any, but I told her “They have Everything in Harrods.” I was right.
There is a protocol to lice, as there is a protocol to everything in France. One calls the people who are frequent visiters and tells them, and one calls the school and tells the Director. One warns ones child not to share bonnets and scarves in the wintertime. Then you do your best to iradicate the creatures. You wash the sheets, the pillowcases (every day during the treatment) and you wash the sweaters, hats, and since my daughter has a parka with a hood – that gets washed too. I tell the people whose children come for English lessons. They just shrug, and we chat about lice and how hard it is to get rid of them.
Everyone is fatalistic when it comes to lice in France.
As they French love to say, “C’est la vie.”