Getting a Haircut in Paris

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It’s time for my next haircut. When I first arrived in Paris, I wanted to take advantage of the best of everything. As a result, I often traveled long distances to find that special coiffeur. After a few years, I’d had it with slogging around in the métro and made a decision to simplify my life by finding services in my very own neighborhood. So, I began to check out the local hair salons. It was hard going, as many coiffeurs are around 17 years old (ok, ok, early 20’s but they look 17), and they are scared of thick hair. You see, I have the “Feldman” hair. Thick and coarse. One “17-year-old” hairdresser thinned my hair so much that even though I received complements on the cut, I felt bald: no hair left because it was thinned so much. I guess the idea is that thick hair must be controlled by thinning it into thin hair. My very best haircut in Paris was by the owner of a very chic salon on the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which I could reach on the way home from my job at that time. He thinned my hair, but not too much. Unfortunately, he didn’t like me—I think because I didn’t come in often enough. One evening I arrived after work, only to find that he wasn’t there because he was “sick.” I allowed the salon manager to cut my hair. Big mistake. He wasn’t as good, but salons in France are very political. Once you change, you can’t go back!  So I stopped going. This experience increased my determination to find something equally as good, some undiscovered genius, in my very own neighborhood. After all, this is Paris!  I continued my search for local salons. Finally, I observed “Valéry” through the window in a local salon that basically caters to little old (French) ladies. I noted one thing: he himself had thick, coarse hair. If he had it, I figured he could cut it. I was right. But, there’s always something isn’t there? There’s bangs. Along with thick hair, I have thick bangs. Bangs that I detest hanging right into my eyes. I’m afraid I am fighting against fashion here–it seems to be fashionable for all Parisian coiffeurs to leave your bangs hanging in your eyes. So I come home and cut the damn things myself. No exception for Valéry. The last time I had my hair cut, I told him, “Cut it really short.” I figured this would also apply to the bangs. I saw his eyes light up, and away he went. In fact, he gave me a really great cut. Except for the bangs. Hanging right in the eyes. “Can’t you cut them a bit shorter?” “Oh, no.  Ça ne fait pas joli.” However, I had observed carefully how he cut my hair. He used a comb to pull it out vertically and then cut along the comb to thin it slightly (but not using those horrible scissors that look like piranha teeth that the 17-year old used all over my head). Ah ha! I’ve got him. Once home, I cut my own bangs just the way I like them! And I’ve kept them short ever since. So now is the time to face Valéry with my very own bangs. I don’t know how he will react.  I’ll let you know. P.S. Today I had my appointment with Valéry at 11 am. I have to admit that I arrived 10 minutes late. (mea culpa, mea culpa) When I arrived, he was working on someone else. However, at 11:30 he was just starting to style the hair of another lady ­with very long hair. And I thought to myself “this is going to take a very long time.” In between these two ladies, Valéry had approached me to say “bonjour” and to see what I wanted. “Yes, only a cut.” I could tell he was really disappointed with me. As he continued to work on the second lady, and I noticed another woman waiting on the side with wet hair, I became more and more uncomfortable. To the point that I simply got up and walked out of the shop! Then I proceeded to walk home.  On my way home there is another salon where I used to go several years ago until I left in disgust because the coiffeuse (who was the manager of the place) ignored my requests not to use a razor on my hair. So I stopped going there. I’d seen that lately they’d been fairly crowded, so I thought I’d simply check them out on the way home. I arrived to an empty salon and was promptly referred to Catherine, a slightly overweight (was this why I felt comfortable with her?) coiffeuse who actually listened to me! So, I had my hair cut right there and then. I must add that it’s really important to distinguish between “dégrader” (which besides meaning to deface, damage and deteriorate, also means to layer when referring to hair­- which is good) and “effiler” which means to thin hair (bad, bad, bad). Catherine, under my firm instructions of no razors and no thinning, but do as much layering as she wanted, gave me a great cut:  for 26 E and with no appointment. Now that’s my idea of a good deal. And another example of how life in Paris can surprise you. — Jeanne Feldman is an intercultural specialist working with English speaking expatriates to help them integrate into french life, both professionally and personally. In addition she works with French executives who need to communicate internationally. Jeanne has also written a shopping guide, Best Buys and Bargains in Paris.
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