(asked by Roz from Chamonix)

Hoozah! Here’s hoping that your witty and incisive blog can help me (though perhaps ‘ask a Frenchwoman’ might have covered it better). I live in Chamonix and had my hair cut and coloured in the main hair-dressing salon today. Whilst there I saw my neighbour having a similar treatment - she and I are on first name terms, faisons la bise, and our young sons are in the same class at school and group in the Ski Club. So naturally, when I finally sat down next to her to have my hair dried, I said a cheery ‘hello’ and kicked off what was meant to be a brief but pleasant exchange about how her son is doing. To my surprise she was very aloof and most definitely did not encourage the conversation, leaving me wondering whether there is some unspoken etiquette that, well . . . things are left ‘unspoken’ at the hairdresser’s? She looks like Nathalie-Imbruglia’s-prettier-sister so surely she can’t have been embarrassed at me seeing her looking like Nathalie-Imbruglia’s-prettier-sister-having-her-hair-done?! I only ask so that I may get even more paranoid about why she cut me if, in fact, there is no such salon etiquette in France . . .

Veuillez croire, Monsieur, à l’assurance de mes sentiments distingués. icon wink What Happened at the Hair Salon?

Hi Roz,
You’re lucky. Usually I don’t publish question with no cultural relevance, but this one really perplexes me, so if some readers can help, they’re more than welcome to do so.
Well, let’s start with what culturally relevant.
No, in France, there’s no hairdresser etiquette that makes you unfriendly to people you’re in friendly terms with out of the hair salon.
Outside of that, I have no idea was she was behaving like this with you. Actually the hair salon is a big chit chat place usually.
I doubt that it has something to do with the fact she looked like Nathalie-Imbruglia’s-prettier-sister-having-her-hair-done.
It could be a social class thing. Is she from the bourgeoisie? Some bourgeois people don’t like to meet their acquaintances in environment and places that are not made for that.
Or it just could be that she was having a bad hair day (no pun intended) and/or for some reason she was unhappy with the fact that you share the same hairdresser.
Apart from that, I’m stuck…
Anyone? (or yourself, if you have anything to add, as this question is a few months old, there may have been some developments since).
pixel What Happened at the Hair Salon?

4 Responses to “What Happened at the Hair Salon?”

  1. Maybe she's one of those people who just doesn't want it to be known she isn't perfectly turned out (or that colour?) naturally? Or perhaps there's something about her son she's embarrassed about that you don't know?

  2. I thinkl there's a difference between being on good neighbourly terms in specific situations (meeting on the street, or because of your children etc)which are basically short and self-defined, and the longer, more open-ended situation of potentially sitting next to one another for hours in the hairdressers. I think the key thing is that you say you were prepared for a 'brief' conversation, but your neighbour would not necessarily have known that - her apparent froideur may have meant that she was trying to close off an open-ended encounter, in which you feel you have to make polite conversation, before it started. I certainly do something similar at times when I'm thrown into the company of people I know, but who aren't friends - I find other people's tolerance of the long chat is greater than mine.

    Also, I'm assuming you are a foreigner? It's possibly a slightly unfair cultural stereotype, but I do find American women in particular tend to want to get more personal and be more chatty than I want to be, when they aren't friends, but acquaintances. She may have assumed you were going to want a heart-to-heart. Clearly, from what you say, you had no such intention, but she may have assumed you did.

  3. As far as i know, there is indeed no etiquette in the salon I go to… Usually everyone listen to everyone else and add their grain of salt when needed …or not.
    However, i know I love to listen but usually I also lve to be just with myself… it's one place (with the plane) where nothing can get to me. So if I want to be alone, I will say "hi" bt not go further.
    Also, in the hair salon, i don't have my glasses so I can't recongnize anyone, and I wont see someone addressing me…

  4. Thank you all: I feel a bit less paranoid! She and I are on very good terms: I'm English, not American, and possibly hang-back more than other English I know so I'd be surprised if she thought she was going to spend ages talking to me. It was the fact her bahaviour was so different to normal that concerned me and made me wonder if I'd made a Gaffe. Possibly I'm a little sensative as I've lived in another country that had 14 official languages and all sorts of cultural anomolies! As Frenchwomen tend to be beautifully coiffured I'm surprised the hair salon is not regarded as a cultural experience - I find everything about living here culturally relevant!!

    *Bisoux* R

    PS - just for a happy ending, the lady in question is now pregnant ;-)

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