Posted on: June 11, 2013 Written by
      Photography by: Vladimir Nikulin from iStock    

Before we moved to France, I had a recurring nightmare that involved me, a hair salon, and a language barrier. Somehow, though the language barrier is no longer an issue, I recently lived my horrific dream.

I was visiting a town north of Paris. Since I had a few hours to kill, I stopped into a salon for a much-needed haircut. The first available stylist politely asked me what I wanted her to do, and I politely told her that I just wanted a trim. I then showed her (using my téléphone portable) a photo of MYSELF with my hair the exact way that I wanted it.

She shrugged.

Shrugging is considered a response in French, though I am never exactly sure of its meaning.

The stylist washed my hair, conditioned my hair, and then did something else to my hair because she simply was not satisfied. That “something else” cost me an additional 12 Euros, so I hope it plated my scalp in gold.

Finally she took me to her cutting chair and began combing my hair with a perfectly French pout on her face. I could not quite determine whether the pout was one of boredom or disdain, but in any case, with a look of total disgust, the young stylist unsheathed her scissors.

Suddenly, she turned into a hair-cutting ninja! For 20 minutes straight she attacked my head with a ferocity like I have never seen. Hair was flying in every direction. She was a cross between an octopus and Edward Scissor-Hands! Just when I thought she was finished, she picked up the thinning shears and kept at it, fast and furiously. There did not appear to be any method to her madness, and I began to wonder if she was even a stylist at all. I contemplated asking to see her license, but I kind of feared for my life.

When she put down the scissors, she picked up a brush and a hairdryer. Again, her technique was aggressive, to say the least. She yanked and tucked and tousled. She applied hair gel, and finally, with a flourish, she held up a hand mirror to show me the back of my head.

I must have appeared a bit shocked, because for the first time since the shrug, she spoke.

She stated, in no uncertain terms, that my previous style was un peu classique (translation: outdated), and that my new haircut was much more fashionable. “NOW” she announced, “you are pretty.”

At last she smiled, triumphant. I think she expected applause.

“And,” she added, leaning down, as if letting me in on a secret, “it is very easy to style. You will think of me tomorrow when you fix your hair.” She got that right, though my thoughts were not at all what she was imagining! I had to repent for them later.

Seriously, I cannot ever remember having as little hair on my head as I did at that moment. What she called, “stylish” I call “practically bald.” My husband did not recognize me and my teenage boys did not stop snickering for weeks. I live for their amusement.

In the meantime, I let yet another lesson in French culture sink in: the stylist chooses the cut, not the client!


© 2013 Thrive.


Question to Consider: We know you have one.  What is your haircut story?

About the author

Jenn Williamson serves in France with Greater Europe Mission. Before arriving on the field in 2010, she was the Director of Women's ministries at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. She is the spoiled wife of a very patient husband, the fumbling mother of two brilliant teenage sons, a beginning knitter, an avid reader, a reluctant runner, and a frequent blogger. To read more visit

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  • Claudia

    I was drawn into this excellent article FIRST by the photo! Wow! And what an experience you had. Oh, boy, have I had them too! Thanks for sharing this.

  • Rae

    I remember well my experience with a French hairdresser in language school. It made me smile because just yesterday the hairdresser in the country where I serve cut my hair EXACTLY as I would have wanted IF she’s given me a chance to tell her. It was a bit tense in the chair for awhile!!!

  • Melissa

    Had such a good laugh at this…at your expense of course. I have been in an awful lot of horrendous cross-cultural situations, but looking back they alwasy make me smile. Though at the time it wasn’t the case. My husband had a barber in the country we were living in that always pulled his ears until they popped, and he always said it hurt tremendously. Eventually, he switched barbers 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    • You know what they say, Melissa, “You either have to laugh or cry!” Like you, I choose to laugh! Still, I’m glad your husband changed barbers.

  • Mirna

    I identify with you, I have had bad experiences with hairdressers for almost whole time we are here in East Timor, I found one that is ok, the worst experience I like to call “lost in translation”. The hairdresser was Indonesian, I don’t speak this language, I could speak Tetun, Portuguese and English ( the lady understood a bit of English). My hair was in layers, i wanted a similar hair cut, but I want to keep the lenght of the front part, as most of the time in the rainy season ( so, so hot) my hair is in a ponytail. So I showed her the front, and said, I wanted my hair the same style, but she understood I wanted the all the same lenght as the front part. So I got a new hairstyle, very, very short. It was poorly done, and about a month later I was in Brazil on furlough and just to fix it, my hair was even shorter….I’m so glad that hair is something that grows fast….just a note, when I came back from furlough the lady was gone, closed the business… Another good point it was that is was cheap, at least I did not waste money on that….

    • Oh Mirna, the “lost-in-translation” is frightening! I agree, it’s a good thing hair grow back.

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