Souvenir stalls around the world tend to offer more or less the same things – T-shirts, mugs, keychains, and snow globes. But on my recent visits to Paris, I noticed something new – just about every vendor offered a selection of aprons embellished with Parisian motifs. No doubt these aprons are a nod to France’s world class cuisine, but I have another theory of how they came to be so widely sold.
Paris is full of Japanese tourists. Japanese visitors, as everyone in the tourist trade must know by now, are more or less obligated to buy gifts for all of their friends, family, and colleagues back home. (For the record, I gave all of my neighbors packages of French cookies. I brought my sister-in-law macarons the first time, and chocolates from Aoki Sadaharu’s shop the second.) And Japanese women wear aprons.
As far as I can tell, Japanese housewives wear aprons all day long. In movies and picture books, they are always wearing aprons. I imagine they don one as soon as they get up in the morning. And at the grocery store, there is often a woman shopping in her apron. As an American brought up to be a career woman, one who would split housework with her husband, I associate aprons with 1950s-style submissiveness. I occasionally put one on when I’m baking, because I have a tendency to wipe my hands on my clothes, but I would never wear one in public.
Years ago, when I was about to get married, some of my adult English language conversation students threw a bridal shower for me. I was appalled to find that many of them had given me aprons.
Nevertheless, they have been out to use. They actually come in quite handy. Every time there is a school event, it seems mothers are required to wear aprons. My kids do a lot of cooking at school, too, and these occasions require aprons.
I actually bought an apron at a tourist stall near Notre Dame…for my sister-in-law. I thought about getting one for my husband, too, since he is now our chief breakfast-maker and does most of the cooking on the weekends. And maybe I could have gotten one for my son, who is a grill-meister in training. But I only had so much space in my suitcase.
I’m planning on looking for a manly apron at the shopping mall near my house. What do you think the odds are of finding an apron for a guy in the most conservative corner of Japan?