(asked by Jess from Indiana)
First of all, I have to tell you that the only thing I know about massage therapy in the US, is that my hairdresser (with whom I was in very friendly terms) always thought that my neck and shoulders were too stiff and that she advised me to go to the massage school in town were they do massages for free (or really cheap) and I always planned on going and I never went.
So I won’t be able to compare both countries on that matter.
Now, what I know about massages in France.
I guess in France, one can divide massages in four types.
First of all, we have the “masseurs-kinésithérapeutes” who are officially licensed masseurs who work in close relationship with doctors and hospitals (some have private practices, some are in hospitals) and their job deals with physical rehab, medical therapy, and these sorts of things. To become one, you need to go to school several years after passing a very selective entry exam, from what I know, it’s almost like med school, except that it only deals with skeletons and muscles or something like that.
Then we have “normal” masseurs, the ones that provide what I think you call Swedish massage in English and these sorts of massages one can get in spas and such, and I gotta admit that I don’t know much about these masseurs, they may just be “masseurs-kinésithérapeutes” too.
Third we have what I call the “exotic massages” that is a big group gathering all the massages coming from “exotic” countries, usually Asian. Some are real massages from these countries (Asia is the number one hip “exotic” place for the young bourgeoisie and the infamous “bobos” these days) some are just new age BS, hard to tell because there’s no regulation or anything else, I assume that anybody can open such a massage parlor if they want.
Finally, we have the sexual massage parlors that are just prostitution that doesn’t dare to say its name.
But your question was more about all of these are perceived in France.
Well, most French people know what masseurs-kinésithérapeutes are, they’re well known, and there’s little to no confusion about their job (they’re part of the medical “industry”).
Then, things can be more blurred with the three other ones.
As I told you, I am myself not that sure whether spa masseurs are masseurs-kinésithérapeutes or not, whereas some other people won’t really make the difference between spa masseurs and “exotic masseurs” (especially because I assume one can find more and more “exotic masseurs” in spa nowadays).
And as far as sexual massages are concerned, in France, they’re very often called “Thai massages” I’m not sure why (but I assume that it comes from the sexual tourism industry in Thailand that gladly mixes both for the tourists), which add to the confusion with “exotic massages”, especially real Thai massages.
I hope I answered your question (I’m not too sure I did).