Haircuts can be tricky things. A friend of mine lived in Paris for a year, and refused to get her hair even trimmed until she was safe in the hands of her hairdresser back in the States. Me, I’m not quite that stubborn, but I did spend a good 4 months here before I mustered up the courage to go and get my ‘cheveux couped’.
Now me and my hair have never been the best of friends, so spending an hour in front of a mirror being forced to look at someone else who’s being forced to deal with it, is not one of my favourite things to do. And then there’s the small talk. And the challenging task of saying yes to a coffee (because it’s free) but then having to drink it without moving the position of your head, all before the hairdryer blows thousands of tiny hairs into the mug. Now imagine doing all of that in French. Yes. Exactly.
I sensibly researched the situation online first. For your own sake, please never Google anything remotely like ‘Paris hairdressers just a trim’. There is a very large, very dark part of the internet filled with horror stories about trips to French hair salons, most of which are variations on, ‘She just kept hacking away at it and refused to listen to me’ or ‘She did the whole thing with just a RAZOR’.
Apprehensive, I asked people for advice. My friend Kate just shook her head and jabbed furiously at the ponytail she’s been sporting recently; apparently, a recent victim of the hacking-away treatment.
Then I asked my friend Steph, who’s lived in Paris for years. She’ll know what to do, I thought confidently. Not so. ‘It’s very hit-and-miss,’ she said unhelpfully. ‘You just have to go into one and hope for the best.’ Then she added, ‘Just don’t ask for a ‘petit coup’, because that means sex.’ Super. As an afterthought, she added darkly, ‘Whatever you do, if they offer you a ‘swan’, say no.’
And so I bravely went along to my local salon, armed with a picture of Rose Byrne growing out a fringe and a post-it reading ‘Trim = une coupe d’entretien. Stop = Arrêtez!’
Don’t worry. It wasn’t so bad. As the hairdresser pointed out, my hair is really very thick so all the hacking-away she did hasn’t left me scalped. But the experience was markedly different from getting a haircut in Britain. Par exemple:
1. My idea of what I wanted was incidental. The first 10 minutes involved Hairdressers number 1 and 2 humming and hahing like speculating builders, shaking their heads about the chances of putting in an extension. My French might not be fluent, but I could follow the majority of their conversation, which included some great phrases: We need to put in more movement here, You have quite a long face, you know. You last had it cut when? Did you know the top half is a different colour to the bottom half? Oh look, here are a few little white hairs.
2. It turns out a ‘swan’ is a ‘soin’, a conditioning treatment that costs an extra 15€. Pah, no thank you (merci Steph).
3. The add-ons didn’t stop there. If I wanted any mousse putting in, that would be 8 further euros. I opted for a regular blow-dry, ‘un brushing’, thank you very much.
4. And the brushing was the strangest part. The whole experience had been quite Edward Scissorhands throughout, blades and bits of hair flying about enthusiastically. But this was something else; I’ve never seen such violence expressed with a hairdryer. In fact, I presume this was excessive even by Paris standards, because the manager marched over shouting ‘What are you doing?’ and took over. She was equally brusque, but seemed less angry about the whole thing. I was just starting to feel part-proud, part-relieved that the whole thing was nearly over, when she said, ‘Hmm, frizzy. This bit’s very dry.’
At which point, Hairdresser number 1 chirped up from across the room something which I didn’t hear, but which undoubtedly meant,‘That’s what you get for not having a soin’.
We asked expatriates in Paris Facebook group members to share their experiences; some of the responses included:
«One hairdresser made my hair glow in the dark. Literally. I was working in a bar at the time so I guess the up side was that it helped the intoxicated customers to spot me easily. Gosh. It was awful. I’m not sure how she managed it but it cost me and arm and a leg too, the next one turned it orange. I had to cut it all off after that.» Charley Talbott
A hairdresser refused to colour my hair (I had never done it before) because she loved the jet black colour and said I should respect nature lol, but I did follow her «conseil» and never coloured it.» Poornima Ravindran
«I asked for blonde highlights and ended up with stripy orange hair which the majority fell out within the month. My hair has never been the same since…»
«Haircuts have always been a challenging experience. I went from salon to salon (feeling awkward) with my favorite hairstyle photo until I found the perfect hairstylist. I didn’t mind that I travelled across Paris just to have my haircut, until recently, he left France… And now the most dreaded search for a hairstylist is back on!»
«When I take my young teenage boys to get a short haircut, I always specify that I don’t want them looking like French soccer players!» Anna Myers Fernandez
«A colleague of mine wanted purple hair and they refused to do it. When she asked them where she could go instead they told her to «try London»» Kabilan Jeyakumar
«The hairdresser cut my ear, it bled for ages and they still charged me the full price, needless to say I ended up cutting my hair myself for about three years then I found MY hairdresser who I shall never leave… Ever, love him to bits he really is awesome, I take the whole family» Rachel Lamb
« I went in for a cut and colour to get my roots done. Paid 120 Euros for it. Got home and realised they’d basically just done my fringe and what I can see head on in the mirror. Just get it done when I’m at home now lol». Natasha Saint-Geniès
«I showed a photo and told the stylist to be creative but she only cut a little and when at the end I showed the pictures once again, she told me “We’ll do that next time“» Kat Cañizalez