The rule is simple: No public displays of affectation.
Recently a friend of mine who, because of her rather glamourous job, is often part of the ladies who lunch brigade, asked me if French women primp at table after a meal. She said the reaching for the compacts, clicking open of the mirrors and the twirling of the lipstick tubes is almost a choreographed event after their lunches. Lipstick is then applied, lips smacked, compacts snapped shut, lipstick un-twirled, end of ceremony.
"I see the same thing in the evening in restaurants," she told me. "It doesn't seem to matter whether the group is all women or mixed company."
Such a display of public cosmetic "repair work" would never occur in France. As my best French friend, Anne-Françoise, said when I remarked to her I had never seen beauty touch-ups for all the world to see she said, "Of course you haven't. Our mothers teach us that anything that has to do with beauty is done in private.
"We consider any makeup application as part of our "toilette" the preparation before we 'go public' if you will," she said. "Our goal is to never draw attention to the tools we may use. We think it's crazy to let anyone see what goes on backstage."
Both conversations made me remember a scene I saw on the terrace of a very chi-chi restaurant in Paris. After lunch with a friend and a man I assumed to be her husband, a woman opened her purse and pulled out her makeup bag. She then proceeded to place upon the table, next to her coffee cup, a compact, lip liner, lipstick, lip brush and a pot of gloss. She then went to work: lined her lips, filled in with lipstick (applied with a brush!), tidied up with the tip of her little finger and finally glossed the whole affair. Right before she snapped her compact closed she checked her teeth.
Once again, I'm rather attracted to the French custom of private beauty rituals.