MA JOLIE COIFFURE FRANCAISE
(My Fabulous French Haircut)
The neighborhood I'm in has at least one salon de coiffure (hair salon) on every block. It's a wonder any of them stay in business since there's so much competition and most seem to be empty when I walk by. The one exception is the salon de coiffure right next door to our apartment. Unlike the other salons, which charge two and three times as much, this one charges only 15 euros (approximately $18) for a man's shampoo and cut, and only 18 euros (about $22) for a woman's. Consequently, the owner-stylist, who runs the shop by himself, is packed with clients all day, every day.
My hair has needed a serious trim for quite some time, but knowing I would be in Paris this month, I decided to wait until I arrived in the city to arrange for a cut. So, last week, I poked my head into the shop and made an appointment for today at one o'clock.
The shop is a little dingy, and, as I lay back for the shampooing in the antiquated and uncomfortable stylist's chair, I realized it needs upgrading too. But, the stylist--a gay man in his fifties-runs a tight ship, washing my hair, taking appointments over the phone, greeting acquaintances walking past on the street, and attending to the steady stream of handsome gay men who pop their heads in to make appointments in person, all with complete ease.
In the United States generally, and certainly at a hair salon specifically, conversations with someone you've just met stay on the surface, rarely straying from safe topics: pets, jobs, and maybe a recent movie. In France, conversants leap right into politics, economics, and sex without even taking a breath. And, true to course, the stylist and I immediately hit on economics as our theme.
I mention that my dream apartment in Paris would be in this very neighborhood, but that even the smallest seems to cost about one million euros (roughly $1.2 million), far exceeding my meagre means. He's off and running about the real-estate bubble in France, the inflating expense of property in Paris and the suburbs, and the disastrous state of the French economy. In classic French style, he begins to quiz me: Am I aware of the reasons for this deplorable fiscal state of affairs? I say that I've read that some people blame it on the forces of Europeanization and the globalization of local economies. He rejects this outright and instead blames France's fiscal problems on the increasing reliance of the society on credit. He refers to this as the Americanization of the French economy, and I'm in no place to argue. Americans are indeed burdened with debt, but I'm not sure I see this as the sole dynamic behind the pension, health-care, and job security issues that plague both societies.
He tells me not to move my head as he cuts, and I let him talk without further interruption from me. I can't really hear him anyway because by now, he's already trimmed the five centimeters I requested and is blow-drying and styling my hair with a blow dryer and brush dating surely to the 1970s. Nonetheless, this fellow is efficient; it's only one thirty, and he's almost done.
A few minutes later, he holds up a large, bright orange mirror smudged with fingerprints and asks, "So, what do you think?" I'm amazed. My hair looks fabulous, and I thank him, with a big, happy smile, for my "jolie coiffure francaise."