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FRANCE EXPLAINED

The need-to-know vocab for getting a haircut in France

When getting a haircut in France as a foreigner, there is always the fear of using one or two phrases incorrectly, and accidentally asking the hairdresser to shave your head.

The need-to-know vocab for getting a haircut in France
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

So here are some commonly asked questions about hair salons in France, as well as all the vocabulary you might need to know for your next hairstyle. 

How do I find a salon?

Hairdressers in French are called les coiffeurs (coiffeuses in feminine), and it’s actually very easy to find a coiffeur in France, particularly in larger cities. Just searching the word coiffeur in Google Maps while walking down the street in Marseille will pop up with several places to choose from.

The harder part is picking a good, trustworthy salon. For this, there are several online resources, like the foreigner friendly facebook pages (ex. American Expats in Paris; Expats of Colour in Paris France) where people regularly post tips for good (and bad) hair salon experiences. Then, there are also dedicated blogs – like La Vie Locale which offers a dedicated guide “for all the girls with Afro/curly hair in Paris,” along with specific recommendations for natural hair. 

You can also use websites, like Treatwell and Sortiraparis (Paris-specific), to search and find reviews for hair salons in your area.

It seems to be a trend for some salons to have English words or phrases in their name – don’t assume that employees in that salon speak English, it’s just a fashion quirk.

What about pricing?

Prices vary, but if you are looking for a less expensive haircut, some recommend trying hair stylist schools – like “Ecole International de Coiffure.” You can go and get an affordable haircut from the students in training (which comes with some obvious risks). There is also the chain “Tchip” that offers affordable haircuts.

Pricing for a cut and colour will depend on the length of your hair – the shorter your hair the less expensive typically.

You can count on spending a minimum of €25-30 for just a cut (coupe), and this will be considerably more expensive at fancier salons. Keep in mind that both un soin (the part of where the stylist massages your head and applies conditioner) and un brushing (a blowdry) often cost extra in French salons.

How do I make an appointment?

Many hair salons in France are sans rendez-vous (no appointment needed) – typically these also tend to be the more affordable locations. 

Otherwise, if you find a salon that you like, usually you can just make an appointment on their website or on ‘planity.’ They might ask you to specify exactly what you would like done to your hair (what type of cut or colour; whether you want a blowdry; etc), so you might want to consult our vocabulary list below prior to making the appointment.

Also, you can always call the salon to ask how they handle appointments. If you feel confident in your French, simply look up the salon online and call them to ask about how they handle appointments: whether they are “sans ou avec rendez-vous.”

What to ask for

It is best to arrive with a very clear idea of the haircut you want. Bring a photo, or be prepared to detail the exact cut, length, layering, and colour. In anglophone countries, you might be used to arriving at the salon and telling the hairdresser to just do what they think would look best. In France, your hairdresser might sit you down in the chair and just say “Dîtes-moi” (tell me what you want). 

You might also notice your hairdresser is more forthright about what would or would not look good on you. Don’t worry – if this happens to you, it is not meant to be offensive. 

What about tipping?

It’s not usual to tip hairdressers in France. In fact, sometimes tipping at the hair salon can be considered offensive.

Common phrases you might use:

S’il vous plaît, ne les coupez pas trop courts – Please do not cut it too short.

Je veux seulement une coloration des racines – I only want my roots redone

J’aimerais que vous me coupiez seulement les pointes – I would just like to trim the ends

Est-ce que c’est possible avec mon type de cheveux? – Is that possible with my hair type?

Ça coûte combien ? – How much does that cost?

Est-ce que j’ai besoin d’un rendez-vous ? – Do I need an appointment?

Vous pouvez diminuer sur les pattes ? – Could you take a bit more off the sides?

Je voudrais seulement avoir la couleur retouchée/refaire – I am just looking to have my colour retouched.

Pas trop serré, s’il vous plaît – Not too tight, please

C’est très joli. Merci beaucoup. – It’s very pretty, thank you. 

The key terms

Couper – to cut

Mes cheveux – my hair (hair is always plural in French and be careful of pronunciation – chevaux is horses, cheveux is hair)

Colorer – to colour or to dye

Un coiffeur (ou salon de coiffure) haut de gamme – A top salon

Un coiffeur de quartier – A local salon

Cheveux courts – short hair

Cheveux mi-longs – medium length hair

Cheveux longs – long hair

Décoloration – bleach

Des mèches – highlights

Dégradé – layered

Les points – the ends (you can ask for a trim by just asking to ‘couper les points’)

Racines – roots

Gloss – a semi-permanent colouring treatment that is more of a top coat on your hair to give it an extra shiny look

Patine – called a Patina in English. It is similar to gloss, this is exclusively for coloured hair and gives a shinier look.

Un lisseur – a straightener

Brushing – blow dry

Un soin/ traitement – a treatment, typically involving a head massage where a treatment or conditioner is also applied

Une fringe – bangs

Séchage – to dry 

Rafraichissement – a trim

Tresses – Braids 

Types of hair

Cheveux fins – fine hair 

Cheveux épais – Thick hair

Cheveux gras – Oily hair

Cheveux secs – Dry hair

Cheveux bouclés – Curly hair

Cheveux frisés – Frizzy hair

Cheveux lisses/ doux – Smooth/ soft hair

Cheveux abîmés – Damaged hair

Cheveux colorés – Dyed hair

For Men (and people with short-hair)

Couper avec les ciseaux – To cut with scissors

Avec un rasoir électrique – with an electric razor 

Le rasage et la coupe de cheveux – A shave and a haircut

Un fondu de nuque – To shave your neck 

Les pattes courtes/ désépaissies – Short/ thinned sideburns 

Garder la longueur mais coupez le haut – Keep the length please, but cut the top 

Court Partout – Short all over

Des pattes – Sideburns

Une barbe – A beard

Une tondeuse – Clippers

Une coupe en brosse – A crew cut

La nuque – The nape 

L’implantation – The hairline

Dégradé – A fade (also the term for layers)

Member comments

  1. When I asked for a permanent (to survive the summer heat in Provence), I was told it was “so 70’s”! I notice that you do not have the word for “permanent” on your vocabulary list! 😁 It may well be so seventies, but it is so much easier than a blow dry in the hot summer heat!

  2. Bangs! I hate to complain: I know you write inclusively for US & Oz etc but… Not all your staff or readers are that far afield. A fringe is a fringe is a fringe for UK hair = une frange. I hate to correct spelling too but the vocab is the purpose of the article & the spelling changes the pronunciation.
    There might be a really comic scene trying literally to translate BANG so just as well to include it but UK English still exists! Thanks anyway.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

‘The French have a taste for princes’ – Why British royals are so popular in France

The announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II has naturally caused widespread sadness and an outpouring of tributes in the UK, but also in France where the British royals have long been popular.

'The French have a taste for princes' - Why British royals are so popular in France

Perhaps the best known thing about French history is that they guillotined their own royals back in 1793. There were a couple of brief returns to monarchy, plus a self-crowned Emperor, but these days France is a firmly republican country.

But that doesn’t stop the French from showing huge interest in, and affection for, the royals on the other side of the English Channel.

In addition to fulsome tributes from president Emmanuel Macron and other high profile figures in France, the Union Jack was added to the flags outside the president’s Elysée Palace and the lights on the Eiffel Tower were turned off on Thursday night after the announcement of the death of the Queen, at the age of 96.

French TV channels on Thursday afternoon showed rolling news updates from the UK, while TV historian Stéphane Bern presented a specially recorded tribute programme to the Queen.

On Friday, three of France’s daily newspapers made the royal death their front page story, with Le Parisien using the headline Nous l’avons tant aimée (we loved her so much), Le Figaro saying L’adieu à la reine (farewell to the queen) and Libération opting for La peine d’angleterre (England’s pain, but also a pun on La reine d’angleterre).

But this wasn’t a one-time event sparked by the death of such a long-reigning and much-loved figure, royal fever frequently strikes France, especially during royal weddings. 

In 2021, 6 million people in France watched the funeral of Prince Phillip, 4 million watched the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the royal weddings of princes William and Harry attracted 9 and 8 million French viewers respectively.

Charles de Gaulle once remarked: “The French have a taste for princes, but they will always look abroad”.

French presidents, such as de Gaulle, are both the political leader of the country and the head of state, and have quite a few semi-monarchical trappings to the role, such as accommodation in the very grand Elysée Palace.

Emmanuel Macron, who began his presidency styling himself as an almost royal figure before being forced by public pressure to adopt a more down-to-earth governing style, called the French “a nation of regicidal monarchists” – yearning for a strong leader yet always keen to tear them down.  

One of his predecessors, François Mitterand, also remarked on this difficulty, reportedly saying in 1984: “I must be both Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth.”

Although the monarchy is far from an uncontroversial subject in the UK, where a significant portion of the population believe that the royals should have no official role, in France they are seen as a force for unity.

TV presenter Stéphane Bern, himself an ardent royalist, wrote a special essay in April 2022, to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. He said: “How can we explain this French infatuation with everything related to the British monarchy Nostalgia of the sans-culottes [French revolutionaries] for the monarchic splendor? Curiosity for this unchanging institution which is not afraid to conjugate secular rites in the present? Or a formidable symbolic force that gives hope to an entire people, who believe themselves invincible as long as the queen (or king) watches over them?

“How many events in our country are still capable of bringing crowds together, across political divides, religious beliefs or social affiliations? Apart from the football World Cup, when France wins, moments of national communion are rare and, even on July 14th [France’s Fête nationale] the principle of unity does not always prevail.

“If the British royal family is so popular in France, it is because it embodies the symbolic power capable of bringing together an entire people and of which we feel orphaned. The crown, which unites in diversity, seems to allow the British to find themselves and to commune around the timeless values of their nation.

“Unconsciously, there must be a kind of nostalgia, tinged with a sense of guilt, in this look of admiration and envy.”

French journalist Nicolas Domenach, speaking to The Local during the royal wedding celebrations in 2018, also emphasised the sense of unity, saying: “English royalty serves to maintain the unity of the country. It has immense symbolic power, but no concrete power.

“This monarchical permanence in a democracy fascinates us because we cut off the head of our king and our queen.

“We are proud to have accomplished our Revolution, but we maintain a nostalgia, if not a remorse.”

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