Why people will look at you strangely if you use Vaseline in France

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

people will look at you strangely if you use Vaseline

Yup, this post is going where you think it’s going. In France, this is why people will look at you strangely if you use Vaseline regularly… and how I found out it’s not the most normal thing to whip out in polite company!

Read on!

Vaseline in France

In the USA, the brand Vaseline is made by Unilever and they have a whole product line of Vaseline items in addition to regular petroleum jelly including body lotions, sprays, hand creams and more. It’s all very normal stuff and Vaseline even makes a lip therapy formulation. I’ve used the little travel sized Vaseline pots that I get at Target to moisturize my lips for years. Regular Vaseline is effective, cheaper than the specific lip therapy kind and lasts forever.

Why don’t I just use Chapstick?

You see, I have this pesky citrus allergy and the Vaseline majorly comes in handy when it flares up after accidentally ingesting a food with citrus. I often apply Vaseline to my lips 50+ times a day during those periods because it’s honestly the only thing that provides any sort of relief. And even when I’m not having a bad reaction, I like using it on my lips.

vaseline in france

I was at a restaurant here in France during one such reaction and left my little pot of Vaseline on the table next to my fork. When I’m having a reaction the little tub is pretty much glued to the palm of my hand. And that’s not all. I’ve taken out my pot of Vaseline on the metro. Mid-conversation when out with people. And at my in-laws’. I even have one on my coffee table in my living room in full view just in case I need a little lip soothing when I walk by. And on the sink in our bathroom. I never thought much about it. No one ever said anything to me about my seemingly innocuous little blue tub of Vaseline. Why would they?

It’s just a lip treatment…. right?

One day at my in-laws’ I ran out of my Vaseline when my lips were killing me after having fish with a sauce that had lemon, so I nonchalantly asked my father-in-law if he had any. He kind of smiled and said no. I didn’t think anything was funny — did I pronounce it wrong?

Oh well, to stock up, my mother-in-law and I went to the pharmacy when we were out running errands. I proudly whipped out my empty tub of Vaseline and showed the pharmacist what I needed and made sure to explain that I use a lot of it. I also told her my husband has been stealing it lately (he’ll put it on his lips in the morning before he leaves for work, but I left that part out of my explanation) so that’s why I was running low.

She looked at me a little strangely but said nothing to make me second-guess myself. She showed me the generic tubes of Vaseline they had but the formulation was too wet. I told her that wouldn’t work. I saw some teenagers snickering behind me but thought nothing of it at the time. I eventually found a suitable product, paid and left.

When the French pharmacist talks about your vagina >>

A few months later I was reading something online about the French and Vaseline (Geraldine of Comme Une Francaise talks about it in her video here). To my horror, Vaseline in France has a strong reputation for being pretty much a lubricant for sex — and that’s it. Sure it moisturizes and soothes burns, but if you say Vaseline to a French person, they’re going to think of it as a sexual aid. That can sometimes still be the case in the USA too but not on the same scale that it is in France — the brand Vaseline has a variety of products in the USA and that old-school connotation isn’t the norm across the Atlantic.

I didn’t want to believe what I had read so naturally I asked my litmus test for all things French: my husband Tom. Sure enough, he confirmed that what I read was indeed correct. He said in France, la vaseline has a very strong sexual connotation. Oh damn.

That’s why I’ve never seen my little tubs or lotions in stores. There’s no Vaseline product line of lotions and lip therapy. It pretty much has one purpose (or people’s minds jump to that one purpose in France). So as you can imagine, leaving my little pot of Vaseline on the table at dinner or taking it out of my bag whenever I felt like it must have been seen as quite strange. That pharmacist must have thought my relationship with my mother-in-law was very open.

Maybe it’s time I put some decorative washi tape over the word Vaseline on the label.

Or maybe I should start using the one clearly marked “lip therapy”…

Ever have an experience like this with Vaseline in France or abroad?

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Comments (19)

  • Melissa Bauernfeind

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    Haha, this was awesome. The way you use vaseline is the way I use chapstick – any kind. I am OBSESSED with lip therapy and also put it on upwards of 50 times a day. I have all different brands and they can be found everywhere – I have 3 different kinds in my purse, one in whatever coat I’m using, more than 5 kinds in my nightstand, 2 on each level of floor in the house. I need it within reach AT ALL TIMES.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      If I am not in the middle of an allergic reaction, I probably only use it like 15 times/day but that’s enough to get some weird stares when out and about. I was so happy to buy a real Chapstick brand (cherry flavor) Chapstick last time I was in the US but saw there are parabens in it. I still use it but will probably stick to Vaseline. Not sure what’s safer.

      Reply

  • Paula H

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    Oh that is so funny! Thanks for the morning laugh.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You’re very welcome!

      Reply

  • Penny

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    I pretty much knew where you were going with that, but I didn’t realize it was used solely for a sexual lubricant! I rely on it to keep my legs, arms, and feet moisturized, esp. during Ohio winters. Also, I’m really sensitive to anything with beeswax or fragrance, so Vaseline is my go-to thing. I think I had it tucked away when we stayed at a B and B in Amboise a few months ago! At least I hope so! Love your blog, by the way!
    Penny

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Penny, so Vaseline IS used in France for cuts and burns and other non-sexual purposes but the pervasive connotation is sexual so while I use it on my lips and plenty of people use it to moisturize and soothe burns, the word Vaseline will conjure up some perverted thoughts for the most part. So basically I learned that putting my little tub of Vaseline on the dinner table is like whipping out a tube of Astroglide. Haha. Oops! Glad you’re a diehard Vaseline user too. 😉 So happy you like the blog!

      Reply

  • Malia

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    Ha! Ha! Had no idea! Too funny!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Glad you got a laugh or two out of my story 😉

      Reply

  • MaryZ

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    That’s hilarious! I had no idea. Thanks for the laugh!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You’re very welcome, Mary!

      Reply

  • Jo-Anne

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    I knew where this was going but still kept reading, here in Australia we have many products by Vaseline also including the lip treatment
    Jo-Anne recently posted…Rain, rain and floodingMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, Australia seems like the US w/a whole product line. Not always a sexual thing!

      Reply

  • AdA

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    Vaseline is also used for “suppositoires”, kids know this part!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Ah yuck

      Reply

  • fiona

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    Having seen Géraldine’s video I knew what was coming next…I can just imagine your FIL’s expression. Hilarious!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Nothing gets him too excited or worked up so the fact he looked at me with a weird expression told me all I needed to know!

      Reply

  • Jackie

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    Great story ! I also knew about Vaseline and the French way. I use Vaseline all the time for my chap lips but I recently found another product I like. It’s Kiehl’s Lip Balm. Comes in a perfect little tube for carrying in your purse. I actually bought my first Kiehl’s Lip Balm in Paris last year too.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I will have to check out the Kiehl’s one. Is it in a round pot and kind of amber/brown in color? I think I bought it years ago. Will have to try again, much more socially acceptable!

      Reply

  • M. Susan

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    If you love Vaseline for your lips try lip medex! I’m addicted! It has a minty cooling effect!!

    Reply

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