petite anglaise

February 6, 2006

scissor sisters

Filed under: city of light, french touch — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:27 pm

It is Saturday morning, and I am not yet sure whether I have a hangover. By rights I should: two G&Ts, a Kir Royal, a beer and a Cosmopolitan would normally be a toxic enough mixture to lay me low. Thankfully, as I open first one cautious eye, then another, exposure to light doesn’t herald in a searing headache. Nor does breakfast cereal cause any queasiness. This is fortunate, because there are few things worse than a trip to the hairdresser’s when one is suffering from mal au cheveux.

I apply foundation, not feeling brave enough to stare at myself in the mirror under fluorescent lights without it, and thank the lord for the absorbent powers of sushi rice. Taking a final long look at my hair, which perversely always looks particularly fetching the day I decide to have it cut, I wrap up warmly and hurry to the metro.

I rarely enjoy paying a visit to the hairdressers. It’s disappointment guaranteed. The only variable is the actual degree of that disappointment, which can vary from utter despair (the haircut inflicted on me days before the birth of Tadpole, which I describe as my “racoon with mange” look, little documented in the photo album) to a feeling of having been cheated (no difference discernible to the human eye, for the price of a mid-range digital camera). Scarred by past hairdressing misfortunes, I dread that final moment of truth when I must replace my glasses, hands trembling, and behold the results. Adopting my most convincing “oh, a pair of socks with polka dots on, that’s exactly what I wanted for Christmas” face., an expression which remains frozen in place until out of sight of the salon, where my bottom lip starts to wobble and then I crack, barely stifle a howl.

I give my name to fiftysomething facelift on the front desk, presumably the salon owner. She gives me a resentful glare when I confess I cannot recall the name of my hairdresser. I suspect she is worried about spoiling her perfect manicure by typing my name into the database. As I haven’t been back for eighteen months, having tried a couple of places on visits to the UK in the interim, I am not what you would call one of their esteemed regulars.

My colourist is called David. Something of a misnomer: Goliath would be more fitting. David boasts rippling muscles, and an all-over fake tan, the buttons of his white overalls straining to contain his hairless, brown hulk-like torso. His mouth looks oddly inflated, and I spend the next half-hour (€ 107) trying to work out whether he has had collagen injections, or just has a terminal pout. Unfortunately, David also has rather rough hands, and a tendency to pull each strand of hair painfully taut as he applies the white paste. I wince, quietly, and wager that the wealthy forty and fiftysomething ladies around me with their generous tips and insipid conversation about their next trip to Mauritius get somewhat gentler treatment. Thankfully I am permitted to keep my glasses on throughout this part of the proceedings so I escape the vapid chatter by burying my nose in a Japanese ghost story.

The time comes for rinsing, and I dare to hope that I might, at least, get a head massage. But no, instead David manhandles my scalp with his large, hulk-like hands, roughly applies a soin(€ 14) and disappears without a word, after twiddling a dial at the side of my reclining chair.

I sit and wait. And wait. Look at my watch. Cross and uncross my legs. Sigh. Begin to worry about the fact that I have left my handbag out of sight at the other side of the room. Wish I had my glasses. Wonder where the toilet is. And why there is a concealed rolling pin inside my chair, working its way up my back. Indeed, I am being massaged by a chair. A warning would have been nice. And although the feeling is soothing at the outset, it gets a little stale after twenty minutes have elapsed. And makes me painfully aware of my bladder.

A few more interminable minutes pass, and finally an apologetic junior appears to rinse off my conditioning treatment. David, it appears, does not do rinsing. The shower spurts into life; I cross my legs tightly.

Rinsed and turbaned, much relieved after a visit to the ladies’ room, I am ready to face the last hurdle: Jean-Francois, hairdresser extraordinaire. He claims to remember me, but allow me to remain inwardly sceptical. I am asked to stand, something I have only ever experienced in France. Ten snips later (€ 77) a junior is enlisted on blow drying duty. J-F dries the last few strands, and shows me how to do a zig-zaggedy parting.

I replace my glasses.

The results are surprisingly good. Goliath has done a decent job with the highlights – subtle, but not invisible – and J-F Superstar has at least respected my wishes, leaving my hair mid-length and layering the front, as instructed. So far, so good. I am escorted to the front desk to settle my bill. Studiously ignored by the surgery queen for a full five minutes while she tries to persuade my hairdresser to take more appointments, despite the fact that his last four clients have all complained about the long wait.

Finally, she deigns to turn to me, compliments David on the colour (causing me to wonder if maybe it is’t a bit too brassy, after all?) and calculates the grand total. I gulp. We are in digital camera territory and I am having a flashback to the last time I stood on this spot and vowed never to darken their doors again. How could I have forgotten?

But the worst is still to come. With a vinegary smile, like bile wouldn’t melt in her mouth, Madame Nip Tuck continues:

“Dis donc, vous en aviez besoin, hein?”

It is probably A Good Thing that I don’t have a pair of scissors to hand.


  1. Oh, she did not! evil cow!

    Comment by Nicole — February 6, 2006 @ 11:52 pm

  2. Hello, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and enjoy it quite a bit. Although I haven’t commented before, I just had to now. Almost 200 Euros for a color and cut!!!? And they treat you that way?!!!
    I live in a small tourist town in Germany (although I’m not German), where you can get a lot of nice things, but for a tourist price. When I had my first cut and color (almost 100 Euros), my husband almost had a fit when he saw the price. At least now I can tell him he should be happy we didn’t move to Paris.

    Comment by sue — February 7, 2006 @ 12:07 am

  3. ok..completly french what did the evil cow say??!!

    Comment by Kim — February 7, 2006 @ 1:37 am

  4. My God but where do you go ? Hairdresser should be a real pleasure, not a torture… and there are some in Paris with whom you are never disappointed. Really.

    Comment by Pink — February 7, 2006 @ 2:00 am

  5. I had a good laugh at this one…

    You remind me of a song by Lynda Lemay about a similar hairdressing “experience”. Hilarious (with just the right amount of Quebec French to spice it up).

    Comment by ontario frog — February 7, 2006 @ 4:09 am

  6. Exactly what I needed to read tonight… because I am off to my hairstylist tomorrow! This is someone I have worked with before and she does a decent enough job (and I pay no where near what you’re paying in Paris for a cut and blow-dry – and I do my own color and highlights at home for $26USD), but I confess I am bored with the way my hair looks. I used to have a FABULOUS stylist who had so much imagination and I always came out feeling very glamourous… but her rates were so high I finally had to give her up.

    C’est la vie. Off to the boring but capable stylist I will go.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — February 7, 2006 @ 4:51 am

  7. You really paid almost 200 Euros?! Do you go to a fancy salon or are they all that expensive? Can you color your own hair and just get it cut? No wonder you haven’t been back for 18 months! I don’t blame you! At that price I would go to the UK to get my hair done, too.

    Comment by Elle — February 7, 2006 @ 5:29 am

  8. Sacre bleu, that’s a lot of dosh for a haircut! The phrase “fiftysomething facelift” had me in giggles, but her parting shot had me sucking in my breath, shaking my head, and wondering if you gave her a good ironic arched eyebrow response.

    Comment by Bronwen — February 7, 2006 @ 5:42 am

  9. Thank you for this. I love to hear your stories about random experiences in Paris. It almost makes me feel as if I’m there…at least for a moment. :0)

    Comment by Dina — February 7, 2006 @ 7:22 am

  10. I’ve never paid more than 35 euros for a cut… and I always love the result! I can’t believe they take you 200 euros and don’t even put your handbag in a closed cupboard… What’s the point of such an expensive hairdresser? Most of them are far cheaper, even in Paris…

    Comment by Dingue Marmotte — February 7, 2006 @ 9:02 am

  11. Hi,

    Go to Joffo in the Rue St Lazare, ask for Annie, it will cost you 45 euros. Where have you been?



    Comment by Patricia — February 7, 2006 @ 9:03 am

  12. I can’t believe nip n’ tuck woman’s comment! Or rather, yes I can believe it. At the risk of being accused of frog-bashing, that could only happen here in Paris.

    Comment by Mancunian lass — February 7, 2006 @ 10:36 am

  13. By the way, what IS that photo you’ve used? At first glance, it looks like the scissors are hacking at someone’s crotch. Ouch!

    Comment by Mancunian lass — February 7, 2006 @ 10:38 am

  14. The best of haircuts, the worst of haircuts (apologies to Boz)were both done in France-by apprentices. The first, in Lyon was fabulous, never since equalled. The 2nd in Metz decided that an asymetric cut with a ‘crête’ fringe would suit a very shy, self-consious me. One day later, with the help of a friends mirror, was compelled to DIY to undo the damage – thankfully short hair suits me! To my mind, NO haircut is worth 200 Euros, unless one aspire’s to be a model/film star, and for that sort of money I would expect to be treated like royalty – mind you, sounds like you’ve already been guillotined! Luckily I’ve now found a friend who enjoys girlie afternoons and is handy with a pair of scissors. Do you have to be ultra chic for work?/self-esteem?/Lover?. Sorry, can’t help being a nosy cow, but eighteen months on, please look back at this post and remember not to be fleeced a third time, you’re neither sheepish, not a lamb to the slaughter. Thanks for making me smile.

    Comment by J — February 7, 2006 @ 11:14 am

  15. What a cow! and what an experience. They make you stand up in Belgium too – although being somewhat taller than the average girl the last time I went the hairdresser took me by the stairs so she could go up a couple of steps to reach… I was mortified.

    Why do hairdressers manage to make you feel so taken advantage of?

    Comment by Becca — February 7, 2006 @ 11:25 am

  16. I think we go to the same place!

    Comment by May — February 7, 2006 @ 11:36 am

  17. mal au cheveux… bad horses?

    Comment by Mr. Andrew — February 7, 2006 @ 11:55 am

  18. mal au cheveux means your “hair hurts”, which is a colloquial French phrase for being hungover.

    And for those of you who don’t read French, the bitch said “You were really in need of that [haircut], weren’t you?”

    NEVER set foot in Jacques Dessange EVER AGAIN is my new motto.

    Comment by petite — February 7, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

  19. I feel your pain. After 4 1/2 years in Amsterdam,
    almost every person that has cut my hair has always
    mysteriously left the right side slightly longer than
    the left. It’s become an obsession for me to make it
    even – they hate me for it, and the joy of a new do is

    Comment by BlondebutBright — February 7, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

  20. Pop over to Istanbul. I was there two years and only experienced pampering, and always left the hair salon feeling so good (which is a feat easily achieved – as, like you, I’ve often left traumatised). Beauty shops are ‘the’ place over there, so many of the women I knew or worked with went weekly, and as 2 or 3 men worked on streaking, drying or styling, you felt like a queen … and as for head massages … it was the place women went to feel good about being women. Those men really knew what they were doing in terms of developing a customer base and couldn’t afford to get haughty delusions as competition was intense.

    Comment by Di — February 7, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

  21. * Casually strokes number two but slightly longer on top*

    Ah, £3-50 from Sweeney Todd’s….

    Comment by greavsie — February 7, 2006 @ 1:36 pm

  22. It would be worth paying the train fare to the Ardennes. We have TWO hairdressers in our village and I’ve never paid more than 60 euros for a colour, cut and blowdry AND a haircut for my husband – who always leaves before I’m finished so I have to pay for him as well!!!
    P.S. I’d be glad to look after Tadpole while you were there provided she’s not allergic to cats as we have six!

    Comment by Sandy — February 7, 2006 @ 2:19 pm

  23. They make you stand up in England too, but only if your hair is very long and your hairdresser very short.

    Blimey, I think the obligatory £35 for a trim-that-nobody-even-notices in the south of England is criminal compared to what you might pay up north, but this is ridiculous! And, out of interest, why does the dyeing happen before the cutting, when presumably lots of expensive dyed hair then ends up on the floor?!

    Comment by old school friend — February 7, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

  24. Crikey! And to think I shed bitter tears the last time I was charged £30!
    I am very short so no-one over the age of 12 ever has any trouble reaching the top of my barnet
    Ever had those streaks that involve pulling strands of hair through a rubbercap with something akin to a medieval torture device? It gives you an insight into how you’d look with a severely balding bonce…
    (my grandmother went bald, it gives me nightmares)

    Comment by Julia — February 7, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

  25. Good lord, the nerve of that woman! Don’t you wonder sometimes if women like ever dare to say the same thing to a French woman, or if they just save the biting comments for foreigners (to put us in our place)?

    And I’ve yet to find a good hairdresser here, and not for the lack of trying. I finally gave up on paying a ton of money once I realized that no one listed to a word I said, no matter how much I was paying them. Why pay more when they all give you the same result?

    Comment by Samantha — February 7, 2006 @ 3:42 pm

  26. Perhaps you should have responded to the bitch by asking her if she was really in need of having her skin stretched………..and then offered her a vial of Botox.
    Now I don’t feel so bad when I pay $18 for getting a haircut, though it seems as if women’s haircuts are more expensive as a general rule……here and in France.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — February 7, 2006 @ 4:10 pm

  27. Ouch! That hurts! Have you come up with a list of potential comebacks? I seem to think of the perfect zinger about 1 minute AFTER I really needed it.

    Comment by Kat — February 7, 2006 @ 4:37 pm

  28. I’d be enquiring about a cheaper model

    Comment by Brian — February 7, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

  29. Once I paid for a cut and colour on my UK credit card, which I then asked Dad to pay from the English end. In Francs, it was 1300, which converted to £130. My Dad rang me, apoplectic, because HSBC card services refused to correct the sum to the “rightful” amount of £13. Because it couldn’t have been £130. Not possibly. Well, never in Northwich.
    PS Manc Lass – One. track. mind.

    Comment by Flighty — February 7, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

  30. I have been reading your posts for a long time and love them all (often the highlight of my day) but am compelled to finally respond. After much searching and many tears found the best hairdresser in montreal who happens to be from Paris and who I believe goes back every summer to work (he owns a Mod’s Hair in montreal). Not only will he give you the best cut of your life but you will leave the salon feeling like the most gorgeous sexy woman in the world (nothing like a straight hairdresser who truly loves women and is a fantastic flirt!). Plus its super cheap.
    His name is Denis Binet, I will try to find out where and when you can find him in Paris.
    PS you really are an amazing writer

    Comment by Vanessa — February 7, 2006 @ 6:10 pm

  31. I understand your fear of haircuts. I have never liked getting mine cut. Luckily, I am not one to worry much about it and just fix it up when I get home.

    That was just before we moved to France and I had one of the worst haircuts ever. She had it all uneven and it looked horrible. So, when we got to France a few weeks later I had my husband translate to the girl to even it up a little and cut it so I could make it stick out a little on the sides as was the style at the time in the states. Kinda like a messy hairdo on purpose. Well, anyway she cut my hair short and it was not sticking out just a little but was almost spiked! I almost cried. And of course there was no fixing that when I got home. Hairdressers are evil.

    Comment by Pumpkin Pie — February 7, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

  32. Umm Petite, hurry up and come over to Brittany. 30 euros gets my hair cut and the girls trimmed and a load of (badly understood) gossip in the meantime – ‘cos the hairdresser comes to your house ;-)
    Great way to learn local Breton pharases too!

    Comment by Morbihan Princess — February 7, 2006 @ 9:04 pm

  33. If this is of no help, please ignore– but I have gone to Valerie at Camille Albane (47, rue Bonaparte 75006) on 4 different occasions and each was more fab than the last– had a gorgeous scalp massage, too. I know this is a chain, but this particular one is good and Valerie, specifically is so gentle and lovely, yet hip. I recommended her to La Coquette who told me she loved her, too– so for what it’s worth. Not trop cher, either. tel

    Comment by Elizabeth — February 7, 2006 @ 9:11 pm

  34. Petite, first swimming pools, now hairdressing salons (or at least a particular salon), how far does the hazard zone at risk of an accident of your bladder extend? I hope that at least the Metro is safe, outside of rush hours?

    Comment by fella — February 7, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

  35. I completely relate to the frozen facial expression leaving the hairdresser’s scenario. Happens nearly every time. Love your writing.

    Comment by Mike — February 7, 2006 @ 11:31 pm

  36. Slightly embarrassed to confess my $300 for color and cut in NYC (and that’s with a discount)! I was so happy when my longtime stylist opened his own salon, until I realized it meant the prices were more than double what I previously paid. I too vowed never to return, but he does such a great job, I never follow through…I’ve also felt the sting of a snooty receptionist at this salon – do they go to school for that?

    Comment by pattoo — February 7, 2006 @ 11:45 pm

  37. I have rubbish hair. But many, many digital cameras. I was staring in the mirror forlornly this evening – but, reading you (and I’m new to your excellent blog), I feel I’ve made the right choice for me. :-)

    Comment by Puplet — February 8, 2006 @ 12:48 am

  38. £3.50 Greavsie?!? Did you sue?!?

    Comment by JonnyB — February 8, 2006 @ 1:42 am

  39. Somtimes, usually early on a Saturday, I walk off Halletts mountain and go to Conwy for a head job. I pay £4.50.
    Ah the simple life……..

    Comment by meredic — February 8, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  40. thats why you should always avoid chain store hairdressers!

    Comment by claire — February 8, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

  41. Tu exagères! You’re like a walking Paris expat train-wreck. I don’t know anyone else who can consistently accumulate these kinds of humiliating stories than you. I wish you all the best with your hair problems and hope you never depend on your hairdressers for a little emotional pick-me-up. Next time, why not bring your hamburger panini in for good measure.

    For everyone else, this is NOT a typical Paris experience. Usually you can get a pretty crap hair-cut for under 40€. Of course, I haven’t been to a hairdresser in over 10 years.

    Comment by nardac — February 8, 2006 @ 6:04 pm

  42. nardac – well, I only tell you about the things that go wrong, obviously, because the other 98% of my life that goes right is a bit less storyworthy…

    Oh, and I’ve had some prettty disastrous experiences in England too. It’s a hairdresser thing. Not a French thing.

    Comment by petite — February 8, 2006 @ 7:05 pm

  43. Hello, Petite. I know that when I wore glasses it was always a bit of a surprise when i put them back on after a hair cut. Although looking at it at varying stages is maybe more worrying.
    I always hate my hair after I have been to the hairdressers. i wish you could just take a pill that would stop your hair in the style your happy with. That would be good.

    Comment by lydia — February 8, 2006 @ 8:05 pm

  44. I live in NYC and fly back home to Europe every 3-4 months for haircut that does not drain all my energy and deeply traumatize me. After experiences much like yours I finally found a nice hairdresser in NYC – but somehow failed cement a long-term relationship because I keep cheating her on my trips back home. Now it’s very difficult to go back to her. My next trip back home is on March 1 – my hair will look awful until then.

    Comment by Anna — February 8, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

  45. Wow, my husband colors my hair and highlights it too. He does a better job than my former hair stylist, it costs less, and he loves to do it. I get all kinds of compliments on my hair.

    Note that my husband is a banker, not a stylist, so if he can do it anyone can.

    Comment by Small Town Diva — February 8, 2006 @ 8:44 pm

  46. don’t most women depend on their hairdresser for an emotional pick me up? all women I know do (including myself of course)!

    Comment by pattoo — February 8, 2006 @ 9:36 pm

  47. I had a sneaking suspicion it was Jacques Dessange. They are notoriously overpriced and catty as all get out.

    Comment by misschrisc — February 8, 2006 @ 10:54 pm

  48. Petite, I would’ve been very tempted to use any scissors within reach on that horrid woman, too. Why do strangers think they have the right to be so humiliating? And to a *customer*? I just don’t get it. I mean, I know they don’t know the meaning of customer service, but don’t they want people to come back??

    I learned today that in Taiwan, they massage your head and shoulders for a full half hour before the cut. Sounds lovely to me–at least I’d be more relaxed about the results! On the other hand, god knows how I’d communicate what cut I’d want…

    Even after living in France for several years, I’d still rather get my hair cut in the States, I just feel more comfortable with hairdressers there–even if the cuts aren’t necessarily better.

    Comment by cheboluda — February 8, 2006 @ 10:58 pm

  49. Petite, as usual an interesting blog. I’ve often been on the receiving end of a catty French throw-away remark and am convinced that the day I manage to immediately reply with an equally nasty comeback will be the day that I’ve fully integrated.

    Nardac, thanks for spicing up the comments page.

    Comment by toggles — February 9, 2006 @ 12:42 am

  50. Dear Petite,

    Oh bosh! Your little eggy bed-talk wasn’t so disastrous and very story-worthy. What’s actually story-worthy is how insanely nasty that Sushi-Bagel place is. Next time you need disaster fodder, that’s solid gold!

    and yes, there is a secret clan of vicious bad hairdressers all around the world. Luckily I only see them out of the salons, in their butt-hugging pants, creating waves of laughs around the dancefloor.

    Comment by nardac — February 9, 2006 @ 6:33 am

  51. I could not agree more. I have had three haircuts since I’ve lived in Paris (15 months). The first was fine, but I wanted exactly the same cut/color. The second was a stand-up cut, and was great, but again, same color, same cut. (Both of those were at that other chain, Franck Provost.)

    I went to Dessange after an extensive search, because I wanted something different (and good). I was treated rudely, waited for over an hour, was worked on by multiple people — pretty much exactly as you described. I swear I had your same stylist, though my color was done by Guillaume, who told me what I wanted, even though it wasn’t what I asked for.

    Thanks so much to everyone for the suggestions. I’m still *seriously* searching for a stylist who speaks English, as I have not yet mastered the vagaries of French hairstyling terms (highlights, layers, etc.) It’s hard enough in one’s own language.

    So, to those who have already commented, do Annie or Valerie speak English?

    Also, for my contribution (besides the *never go to Jacques Dessange ever ever* contribution) I offer the next place I intend to try, which is:

    Marianne Gray Salon:

    They have anglais on their website, so I’m praying for a stylist who I can really talk to. It’s very boring to sit in the chair with a forced smile because after my smalltalk is exhausted, any further conversation is such a struggle.

    Finally, there’s a thread about this on Expatica just wating for more input:

    Thanks for the post Petite, je suis d’accord avec vous.


    Comment by Aimée Cardwell — February 9, 2006 @ 4:52 pm

  52. I hate going to hair stylists that have a million assistants. It’s so difficult finding the right stylist and colorist–I feel your pain. Hair is so personal and intimate, you’d think they could make hair salons a bit more spa like with Zen front desk staff, eh? PS I love your blog–it’s stayed on my increasingly shrinking blogroll.

    Comment by Tiffany — February 9, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

  53. Nardac, there’s no need to be an ass and then try to smooth things over with a “Dear Petite” salutation. Petite’s blog is entertaining and interesting, crazy stories and all…there’s a reason she’s consistently recognized for her blogging. Perhaps you should follow her lead on your very boring blog…instead of calling names on an excellent blog like this one.

    Comment by Stella — February 16, 2006 @ 6:34 am

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