It was my dream — I was living for the year in Paris! Well not quite Paris, a bit more out in the suburbs. And not exactly living on my own. I had become an au pair to work on my french and I wanted live a luxurious year in France. I was staying with the sweetest family — The LeBlancs. Monsier LeBlanc was a banker and worked in the city. He tended to come home late and leave early and would only occasionally spend a sunday with his family. Then the wife and lady of the house — Johanne LeBlanc. And then the family member I spent the most time with— Lucy LeBlanc. Lucy was 10 and we spent the days doing english lessons, baking cookies in the afternoon and taking Lucy to all of her play dates, music lessons and other events. Lucy and I were cute and often mistaken for sisters. Lucy had hair just past her shoulders and I had Hair about to my mid back.
Although Lucy kept me occupied I occasionally had the day or night off. I could take the train into Paris and wander the streets. But my french wasn’t great so I didn’t have many friends and didn’t have much money to spend either. So while all the fancy clothes and parisian styles looked so elegant they were all well out of my price range. I walked past a few salons and the stylish parisian woman would always emerge with such classic hair styles. They were all adorable! Not like the tacky bouffant hair back home. Thats when I made up my mind that I was going to get a haircut in France. I’d never gotten more than a trim and just from my mom’s stylist back home. But I wanted to freshen up my hair and do something a little new. Obviously nothing crazy — I wasn’t ready for the classic french bob or even bangs. But I just know some handsome parisian man dressed in a suite could give me the most fantastic hair style.
Not long later I was preparing dinner while Lucy did her lessons at the table. When Johanne LeBlanc came home she fiddled with her daughters hair at the table.
“c’est un catastrophe” Johanna said. I looked up worried some disaster had happened. “We’ll need to get Lucy her summer haircut soon. It is too much with this weather.” This was my opportunity.
“Well if I’m taking Lucy for a haircut maybe you could assist and I could get one too?” I asked hesitantly not sure exactly how to broach the subject. I mean I didn’t speak enough french to go to a hairdresser on my own. So I’d need some translation help or assistance.
“Oh you want a haircut do you?” Johanne smiled at me. We’d not had many bonding moments together.
“I was just thinking its been so dead and boring for awhile. It could use a good cut.”
“Well absolutely. My coiffure Jeannie is just the best. I’ll make an appointment for you and Lucy to get summer cuts.”
I was smiling. That worked out so well. I imagined myself in a fancy french salon, a beautiful french man massaging my head followed my the most amazing blow out. This was going to be so great.
The date was marked in the calendar. When it finally came around it was on a Friday afternoon after I picked Lucy up from school. I had spent the day around the house getting myself together and putting on makeup. I knew I was going to be a bombshell when I walked out.
I picked Lucy up from school and the bell rang. Kids flooded out all in their matching uniforms. I took lucy by the hand. “Pret?” I said, “Ready!” she replied.
“We’re going to get haircuts today” I told lucy as we walked. “Your mom said you’re getting a summer haircut”
“Are you getting your haircut?” Lucy asked me.
“Yes after you get yours cut I’m going to get my haircut too”
“Really?” She asked surprised, almost confused.
“Yes, is that okay?” I asked.
“Yeah its just I didn’t think you’d get your haircut. Its so long and beautiful” Lucy said.
“Well I still need to look presentable don’t I?”
As we walked I knew the salon was in the roundabout past her school in a village I hadn’t really visited before. “Do you know where your moms coiffure is Lucy?” I asked.
“Yes I’ll take you” she said excitedly.
I was relieved that Lucy was leading the way as I didn’t want to be late. Johanne said she’d called ahead and Lucy and I both had appointments and Johanne had already informed Jeannie that I couldn’t speak french but gave her instructions for my trim.
As we came onto the square I couldn’t see the salon. I’d expected some fancy Jean Louis David salon but couldn’t see any. Lucy took me by the hand and we went around a corner. There, as we crossed the street, I saw it. It was “Chez Coiffure” on the old sign. It looked like a sun down salon, more dated to the 60s than the fancy salon I was imagining. But Johanne LeBlanc was a classy lady and would never have her haircut in somewhere that wasn’t high quality.
As lucy pushed the door open a little bell rang. I took in the scene inside. There were two chairs, one had a lady with rollers in her hair and a hood dryer covering her like an umbrella. In the other chair, up against the buildings window was another school girl, about Lucy’s age in the chair getting her hair trimmed.We made eye contact in the mirror and the although the haircut was finishing and the hairstylist was blow drying her hair she looked sad. I’d never seen someone in a salon made up like that — the cape that covered her hair sleeves but her arms weren’t quite long enough to get all the way out of the sleeve. The cape was long enough it wrapped all the way around the chair and nearly touched the floor. A towel was wrapped around her shoulders and clipped in front.
“Bonjour” The stylist said stopping the blow dryer
“Bonjour” I replied.
“Bonjour” lucy said. The girl in the chair gave out a muted hello.
“Tu as un rendez vous” the stylist said
“Oui!” Lucy replied
“Ah vous êtes LeBlancs ouais? Pour un coupe pour lete? Assetez-vous and je prendai dans cinq minutes”
Lucy grabbed my hand again and pulled me towards the waiting seats. I sat down next to the mom watching her daughter haircut wrapped up. We said hellos, I’d seen her at some of the school functions.
After a few minutes The blowdrying was done and the stylist removed the towel and cape and the student hopped out of the chair and the mom paid.
Lucy and I sat there in silence, nervous for what was to come. As I took in the scene this was not what I was expecting. No cute shampoo boys, no chic Parisian experience. This was more like an old lady salon bordering on a barber.
I was caught off guard by the stylist’s back at the chair.
“Qui est premiere?”
I looked at lucy and she climbed out of her hair and towards the styling chair. She climbed in and I her talk to the stylists. Lucy just nodded her head and I could see her get especially nervous as she nodded at everything the stylists said. Then when they had fully agreed the stylist clipped her hair to the top of her head. From her drawer, she brought out a pink and black floral printed cape and throw it over lucy. She dangled it in front of her for one moment while lucy put her hands through the sleeves. The ends of the collar were wrapped around her neck and the strings were tied in a bow. She then tied a towel around her shoulders like shoulder pads and clipped it in the front. The cape was like nothing I’d seen before. Not only were the sleeves and bow ties new but this cape was a pink floral print with frilly ends. It must be the children’s cape, I concluded.
The stylists played with the hair for a minute before going into her drawer. I watched curiously. Lucy sat very still in the chair watching Jeannie. Our questions were soon answered and she emerged with very large clippers. She was fiddling with different settings before finding the one she wanted. She then took her place behind Lucy. From the waiting seat directly behind the chair, I could see lucy’s long hair dangling behind her shoulders and her face in the mirror nervous.
The clippers turned on and my jaw dropped as I saw them draw a straight line right across the middle of the neck. 6 inches of hair fell to the floor and lucy’s shoulders, some spilling into her lap. The stylist continued on like this just ruthlessly shearing away the hair in the back.
When she was happy with what she’d done she put the clippers down. Lucy’s long hair had been sheared into a straight bob about one inch above her hairline, equal to her jaw length. Jeannie came back with the scissors and straights adjusting the line and making it straight.
Bangs cut short across forehead and hair falling in lap.
I was lost in her thoughts— i hadn’t even thought about what a summer haircut meant for Lucy except a trim. Was this was Johanne had requested? Lucy didn’t seem too happy with this but didn’t protest either. But what had Johanne told Jeannie about her own hair? This situation felt it was getting out of hand.
Before she knew it Lucy’s haircut was done. The stylist was blowdrying her from behind and sending all of her hair onto the floor. When she was happy with the shape of the bob she took the towel off then untied the cape. As it was pulled off her, Lucy jumped out of the chair and walked back to the waiting seats.
I gave her a big smile “Tres bien! C’est magnifique!” I said to cheer her up. She gave me a small smile and it seemed she wasn’t too sad after all. It did look adorable on her.
“And now your turn!” Lucy, she pointing at the stylists chair. As if ignoring it would make it go away. I turned to the chair and the stylist was using the cape to toss hanging bits of lucy’s hair to the floor. I wanted to show Lucy I was brave and getting your haircut was nothing to worry about. I was an adult after all.
I took up and stode to the hair. My heart was racing out of my chest. As I sat down and the chair turned to the mirror it all felt unreal. This couldn’t be happening in reality. I was next to the window of the village roundabout. People were outside window shopping and leaving their jobs. I was stuck with this stylist and whatever she was about to do to my hair.
She flipped the floral nylon gown over me and I slipped my hands in the sleeves. Then the towel. Soon I was sitting there just like the two girls previously. I felt like a little girl. It was humiliating. The people outside could peer in and see me, nervous as a bee, obviously some american tourist girl, all wrapped up in some old salon. they were probably laughing at my foolishness. I shouldn’t have tried to get a haircut. Now that I was in the chair I was regretting the whole chain of events that got me here.
“The back. So you want it Angled or straight?” Lucy translated
I like my hair straight in the back “ligne” I said. The stylist nodded
She parted in down the middle and let each side hang down my chest. Then she stood in front of me, grabbed the right side of my hair, and started cutting. My heartbeat was increasing even more. I could see the mirror and she was pulling on my hair so I couldn’t look up. I tried to find the words “uh, pardon” but they were mostly just gasping. My mouth struggling for air. Was I having a panic attack? She repeated it on the other side. All of a sudden she was holding about a foot and a half of hair and suddenly I was down to a bob at my shoulders. I was silent in shock as she put it on the counter in front of me, stepped away from facing me, and I was left alone with the site of myself, wrapped up like an old lady and my hair swinging above my shoulders.
I was left to catch my breath and just stare at myself. The stylist patted my shoulder and went on to her other client .
She was taking out the rollers and finishing her other client while I was left in the chair. I looked at my ridiculous self in the mirror. Then I looked at Lucy in the waiting area. She smiled at me so I put on a brave face and smiled back at her. She gave me a big thumbs up and I put on a brave face.
I looked out the window and could see the streets were starting to liven up. I saw another family i recognized from school across the street. I was conscious of my ridiculous state and how exposed I was. I hoped no one saw me.
Then I saw a boy about my age in the square. He was well dressed and had over -the-ear, luxurious hair. I’d seen him around, he was the older brother of Lucy’s classmate. Not to lie, I’d had some thoughts about him. But he was walking in the direction of the salon. I tried to turn away so he wouldn’t recognize me if he walked back. I watched as Jeannie put hairspray into the lady’s hair. It was a beautiful coiffe now and she removed the cape. While the lady was clearly old she seemed very spry. French people age differently, I guess.
Then I heard the bell ring. I looked in the mirror and the handsome boy entered the salon. Luckily he didn’t notice me although he was standing inches from my chair. He chatted with Jeannie
“Salut Louis! Je suis tres heureux te voir!” She said smiling at the pretty boy.
“Je vais finer cest une,” Jeannie said pointing to me in the chair. For the first time the boy, Louis, noticed my presence. He looked in the mirror and I saw the shock cross his face as he eyes me, a pretty girl all tied up in this ugly smock, while My hair lay like a sleeping cat on the counter in from of me.
Jeannie ruffled his hair and she approached my chair. “Et puis je fixerai tes cheveux.” I saw a flicker of nerves and seriousness cross his face as he turned to look at me again. I couldn’t even muster up a smile but I put on the bravest face. He took a set next to Lucy. Right behind me so now not only did I have to watch my haircut but watch him watching me the whole time.
But I didn’t have to worry about the stares for long as the stylist pushed my head down roughly. My heart was racing as I heard the rhythmic triplets of her scissor snips. I could feel her comb, pull and snip, over and over. I tried to calm my heart but then a torrent of 6-inch pieces started raining down onto the cape and my lap. My mouth was agape again. With each snip more rained down. She moved onto the next section and was recombine it. I got a quick chance to catch myself in the mirror but I couldn’t see how long it was yet. All I could see was the hair covering me like a sheared sheep. I could see the boy was also mouth agape and he looked at my neckline.
My head was once again pushed down and the massacre on my head began again. More snipping and another torrent of hair falling all around me. Jeannette moved into the sides and I know how Short she was going now. She combed the hair right to my earlobe and snipped. Another 6 inches fell to the ground. She was giving me a classic French girl bob, just like Lucy’s, but a short one. I felt so tricked. I was an adult! And here I was feeling like a child Forced to get some little girl bob. I wanted to cry staring at myself in this ridiculous place with permanent damage to my hair. But I didn’t cry and tried to smile for Lucy who was looking on joyously.
I looked on as my ridiculous silly French bob emerged. I looked like I was five years old. She finished the other side. I could feel the eyes of people in the street seeing the poor girl sheared in the window.
Next Jeannette moved in front of me. She combed my ear length hair down across my face. suddenly she was combing in together. I felt her fingers on my forehead. With another ruthless snipping my vision was revealed. I had bangs now. She moved to the side so I could see them in the mirror. They looked hideous and only added to my dismal state.
I wanted to cry right there staring at myself but gosh that would only make things worse! I looked down at my lap as a stifled my sniffs and tears. I wiped away a tear as I looked at the shedding of hair across the flower cape.
She put the scissors down and I was it would be over soon and I’d be out of this cape and this chair.
But I was wrong. When Jeannie turned around she was holding the biggest set of clippers of ever seen. I was once again in shock. She saw my face and started talking to me in French but I couldn’t understand her. I tried to muster up some words to prevent this. I looked around gasping for breath trying to get someone to help. My eyes flashed to see Lucy and Louis in the waiting area eyeing the clippers. But before I could do anything I felt my head pushed down into my lap again. The big motor engine came to life right next to my ear. The humming of the clippers was so loud. My head was pushed down into my chest. The roaring clippers pushed ruthlessly into my nape. The feeling wasn’t unpleasant. Not so different than a massage chair. The hair was sheared away in long strokes. I was slightly relieved to realize she wasn’t shaving my whole head just buzzing the nape below where my hair fell. Gosh I was so worried about how short it was going to be. I don’t want a bald neckline!
My haircut seemingly done, she patted my shoulders motioning me to stand up. Coming out of my nightmare for the first time, I stood up. The miles of hair came tumbling down into the floor. Covered in all these gowns was clumsy, I had to hold them like a long ball gown as I passed Louis. He made a small smile at me as I passed and I did my best to look sexy and smile back at him.
I followed Jeannie to the shampoo bowls and laid down. For the first time I was able to relax a bit as I closed my eyes and let her massage my head. When that was done she wrapped me in a towel and motioned me towards the empty chairs. Oh great, I thought, further humiliation. I followed her to the second chair and took a seat. She rolled out an old hood dryer and She lowered the hood over my head and said
“Trente minutes” she said and walked away.
She returned to her chair and patted it.
“Allez” she said to Louis.
I saw him stand up and move to the chair. Jeannie tisk-tisk’d and she fiddled with Louis’ hair. I could hear them chatting and laughing. It was clear Jeannie was not a fan of his shaggy cut.
Jeannie walked back towards me and the shampoo bowls. She grabbed a yellow cape off a hook and walked back to the boy. After throwing it over him she tied it with a bow at his neck. He looked cute sitting there, not as confident as he was walking in, looking like a kid himself. He was so submissive and nervous under the gown with the cute little bow on the gown. I saw her pick the clippers up again and adjust the guard. He adjusted in the seat nervously as he eyed them.
She took her place behind him and pushed his head down. Then drove the clippers right into his nape. She did pass after pass and each time a wave of hair was thrown onto the floor. I watched as his hair joined mine on the ground under the chair. Cute, I thought, but tragic.
I couldn’t see how short the cut would be because there was still so much hair covering his head. I could see him feel me looking at him so I looked away. I was relieved when Lucy came up to my chair and started chatting to me.
“Now we’re like twins!” She said in English
“Yes we are” I acknowledged.
“Mom makes me get short every summer so its easy when I go swimming. I always wanted long hair like you had but now you don’t have it anymore.”
It was true. My mane was gone and now made up like a little French girl.
I looked over at the clippers. Jeannie was much rougher with the boy. His head was tilted to the side with one hand and she was shearing the hair on the side with the other. His eyes were closed and he was consigned to what she was doing to his hair. The yellow gown now had black hair all over it like a bumblebee. I’ll be honest I was happy to see someone else get sheared like me. I wasn’t the only fool tricked into a short haircut.
Then, just as Luis started to protest, the stylist took the clippers right over the top of his head. She did it again and again quickly peeling back the long top layer of his hair just as he started to say “no”. I could hear him whimpering the chair and muttering to himself as the stylists told him to hush and sit still. After running the clippers around his now fully buzzed head a dozen times the stylists put down her clippers.
The boy was left like that with clippings all over him as she came back to check on me. She touched my hair and deemed it dry enough. The stylist removed the hood dryer, pulled the cape off me, and I rose from the seat. I was at last getting out of this nightmare. As I paid the stylist I made eye contact with the boy in the mirror. He sat subsmissively in the chair, covered from neck to shoes in the big yellow gown and covered in the hair that once made up his gorgeous mane. I did my best to smile.
Another middle aged lady and her teenaged daughter came in. This time the girl was about 16, so much younger than me but older than Lucy. I saw Luis blush in the chair as the daughter giggled at him. I decided the quicker we got out of her the better. I took Lucy’s hair and we rushed into the street.
The rest of my time in France I had to keep that cut. There was no way to hide it so I had this hideous french bob all summer. Although I did go back that salon again. But that’s a story for another day.