Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The French are nice if you let them be

I am sporting a new French look. 

And with my USM necklace, I'm bringing the sexy to Spiritual Psychology. 

Ooh la la.

Why the new French look? Because I got my haircut.

I should have had a cut six weeks ago but it took me that long to muster the courage and feel confident enough in my language skills. It's my hair.

First, I walked up and down my street stalking various salons. I was looking for one that seemed friendly, lively and reasonably priced. But mostly friendly.

Second, I consulted Google Translate on how to ask for what I wanted. I memorized my line. When I walked into the salon, I smiled, took a breath and asked for a coat.

"Coupe! Pas couche!"

They made an appointment for me anyway. I was to return in two hours.

Back at chez moi, I Skyped my mom and practiced how to communicate my wishes with my hair. I used a lot of hand signals.

"Oh dear," she said. "Be careful. You might walk out of there with a pixie cut."

The idea of walking out of anywhere with a pixie cut has horrified me since grade six when I actually walked out of a salon with a pixie cut. It wasn't me. AT ALL. My mom loved it.

"I can see your beautiful face now," she said.

But it was grade six and hiding signs of puberty on my face trumped exposing it.

Since then, whenever Meg Ryan has a short hairdo, I hear about how cute it is from my mom.

At the appointed time, I returned to the salon to meet my coiffeur.  

I explained that my hair was too long. "I want it long but shorter. See here? I like this but cut it to here. And this? I like this, too, but trim it to here." I said it all in French and I used plenty of hand signals.  

He worked at an alarming rate. I thought, Shit he better not be giving me a pixie cut. He even talked a little and I talked back in French! 

He asked if I was American. 

No, I'm Canadian. 

He grinned widely.  

Thank Christ for my Canadian heritage. It helps with getting decent haircuts in Paris. That bilingual country thing really pays off.  

As he was blowing my hair dry, I realized that he had cut my hair as if he'd cut my hair my whole life. 

It was perfect. 

It was better than perfect. He took the hairdo I like and made it better. 

This is very French. To take something and make it more beautiful. To bring out the essence of itself. Not improve it, which implies something is wrong with it and it must be corrected. But to take what is there and make a lovely version of it. 

The same kind of thing happened when I recently purchased a dress in the 6th arrondissement. Here's how it goes: 

First, you walk into a clothing shop and say Bonjour to the merchant. No sheepish smiles. No bonjour murmured under your breath. Only a bright, big Bonjour! will do. Even if they detect your accent, they know you know the local rules so they better not be pulling any of that snooty turned-up nose shenanigans.  

Second, you grab a dress to try on. You inform the sales lady. She nods and asks if you will permit her to make a few other choices for you. 


Then she zips around like a kid in a candy store grabbing dressed left and right. She leads you to the change room and waits for you outside like a good girlfriend. 

Third, almost everything fits you. See, she sized you up the moment you announced yourself with your confident Bonjour! and she knew your size without having to be told. 

Fourth, you model your clothes for her and discuss together what looks best. See, she's not trying to sell you everything. She's fitting you. There is a difference. And she's not trying to improve you either. She's not trying to make you look younger or thinner. She's not trying to take a problem area and hide it. She's taking what's there and making it the best version of itself. She has already taken into account your body type and the pre-approved outfit you walked in with and matched it with the clothes in her store. 

You walk out with a dress that is so you but better. 

That's the French. Like I said, it's not about improvement. It's about enhancement. For the French, there is no problem to solve. There is only a chance to make something even more beautiful. Walk into any store in North America and check out the shampoos. They are all touting some problem to solve. Oily. Dry. Extra body. Less frizz. But here in Paris? Pick the flavor that smells best to you so you can enhance your shower experience.

("To take a shower" in French is "prendre une douche" which I can't even say without blushing or snickering like a ten year old. Bruce Springsteen said once that he is convinced that his only #1 song EVER, Blinded by the Light, made it to #1 because people thought the lyrics were "wrapped up like a douche," not "revved up like a deuce," as in little deuce coupe. More on that here.) 

Anyway. Friends have warned me that the French were not kind. But if you let them be, meaning if you let them do their thing, and trust that they take national pride in making everything more beautiful, you'll end up being more beautiful yourself. The reason you see so many beautiful French women of all ages is because they have teamed up through various divisions of labor to make everything and everyone a little more beautiful—from top to toe.  


  1. Sexy mama! That hot pink suits you well. I think I could use a Parisian-enhancement vacation.

  2. Yes Jan I thought you looked really cute in a pixie cut but you look good in any hairstyle.,also nice dress

  3. Jan, you actually DID pull off that Dorothy Hamill look, with your glowing straight locks... unlike self.

  4. Eek! I've never thought about trying to ask for a haircut in a different language. It's hard enough in English. Your dress purchase sounds like the perfect shopping experience.

  5. And now you're a beautiful French woman. J'adore.

  6. I couldn't agree more. I don't think the French are nearly as rude as people say. In fact, I find a person's amount of negative response to French people to be directly proportional to their own rudeness. A little effort with the French language goes a long way. Too many Americans come in "speeeakiiiing ssslooow Ennnngliiish" and wonder why they're dealt with rudely. The fashion is one of my favorite things about France, in Paris particularly. Serving people in a store, or waiting on tables, or baking, is an art in France. It's a real career helping someone pick clothes or taking their order. They take it seriously, while not being too serious about it. Which is an amazing combination. Viva la France!

  7. Loved this post ( i love them all, but this on in particular )

    I can see you with a Hammil cut too, but I suppose I could see that on about everyone!!!! *wink*

    You look lovely, like you always do. What a fun revelation, the beauty is already there.



  8. I just read this aloud to my mom and we were laughing aloud and smiling as ever reading your prose and your take on the French. We couldn't agree more. You're making me very homesick for Paris! Keep enjoying! xx

  9. @Mandy_Fish: j'adore that you j'adore.

    @Mel Heth: Pink is defo your color.

    @Mom: Sorry. No pixie cut in this lifetime.

    @Jule: Ya, I pretty much rocked the Hamill.

    @Jeannette: Yes it's scary to get a cut in another language. I looked like a bohemian crazy person beforehand... too scared to walk in. Like a caveman who dethawed and now doesn't understand this modern world.

    @Nagaji: Merci merci merci

    @Joshua Jones: Agreed. A French person would rather you speak clear, regular English than speak to them like they are mentally ill. Fancy that.

    @Scottie: I bet you could pull of the Hamill look. I can see it whipping around as you zip around on the ice.

    @Meghan SK: Delighted to hear you're sharing it with your mom, who is so cool, btw. I'm heading up Rue Mouffetard for some weekend provisions now. Life is good.

  10. I love and agree with the way you think. Yes - beauty is there in all of us. How do you teach our North American culture that time keeps on moving as we strive to fix ourselves? To be at peace with oneself is truly a gift. You are one of the lucky ones... you get it! Thanks for posting!

    R. Minor


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