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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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For members


6 things to know about France’s ‘illogical’ AZERTY keyboard

Few can forget their first encounter with a French AZERTY keyboard, which can be pretty mind-blowing for people used to typing on the QWERTY keyboard.

6 things to know about France's 'illogical' AZERTY keyboard

The keyboard, which is only used in France and Belgium, is named after the order of the first six keys (as is the more common QWERTY keyboard).

Some of its differences to the QWERTY keyboard are completely logical, such as prioritising the é, ç and è keys which are used all the time when writing in French.

But some of the differences seem completely illogical and designed to designed to make typists tear their hair out especially if – like many new arrivals to France – you have to change your typing style having grown up using the QWERTY keyboard.

The placement of the letters

The differences are few when it comes to the actual letters of the alphabet: The A and Q are switched, as are the Z and W, and the M is transferred to the end of the middle row, rather than at the end of the bottom.

But that’s still enough to make for some frustrating weeks when you transfer from a Qwerty to an Azerty – or if you’re trying to use a French’s friend computer to send a quick email. 

If you’re not careful, “a quick pizza” can turn into “q auick piwwq”, for example. 

The French AZERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons
The QWERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons

The reason the letters are in a different order remains unknown, as is much of the reasoning behind the buttons on French keyboard, which took off in the early 20th century according to French historian Delphine Gardey.

French speakers in other countries like Canada actually prefer the QWERTY keyboard. 

It is worth noting, however, that the letter Z is much more common in French than it is in English, and the Q occurs slightly more frequently too.

Numbers are not prioritised

Writing the numbers on a French keyboard requires using the shift key each time.

The top line of the AZERTY keyboard features the special characters needed to do accents such as é è ç and à, as well as common punctuation such as as brackets and dashes.

It also features numbers, but the numbers are all on the shift key.

The French language has a much, much higher usage of accented letters compared to English. In fact, most English writers don’t even bother adding things like an accented e to words like café or fiancée anymore. 

In French, however, the é is more frequently used that a whopping ten letters in the alphabet. It makes sense to give it a key to itself, especially compared to y, w, z, and x. 

However this does mean that every time you need to type a number you are using the shift key – and certain UK or US based websites won’t allow you to enter characters in say – the box for your credit card details – if you are holding down the shift key, making shopping and admin on non-French websites particularly annoying.

@ and €

Two of the biggest gripes with the Azerty keyboard are the lack of a  dedicated @ key and the lack of a € key.

The @ symbol might have started out as a relatively obscure symbol, but in the days of email and Twitter it’s needed all the time, while one could argue that France’s official currency would be a pretty useful symbol to have.

Both the @ and the € require an ‘alt gr’ to find, but on newer keyboards they are at least clearly marked on the keyboard so they’re easy to find – @ is found at Alt gr + 0 and € is found at Alt gr + e.

On the other hand ù – a letter used by the French just 0.058 percent of the time – gets its own key, just to the right of the ‘m’, while the dollar symbol also has its own key, presumably a hangover from the Qwerty keyboard as used in the US. 

Underscores and dashes

The underscore symbol (this one _ ) is another one that has seen its popularity vastly increase with the widespread use of websites, email, Twitter and Instagram where it’s a frequent feature of user names and domain names.

And in good news, it does have its own key – it’s right underneath the number 8.

In fact in French the dash and the underscore (- and _) are  sometimes called “tiret du 6” and a “tiret du 8” respectively, meaning a “six dash” and an “eight dash” because that’s where you can find them on a keyboard, although their formal names are just tiret and tiret bas.

Pressing shift to end a sentence 

But surely the mostly baffling and irritating thing about the Azerty keyboard is having to use the shift key to end every sentence.

The much lesser-used semi-colon gets its own key, while if you want to end a sentence with a full stop or period – by far the most common way to finish – you need to employ the shift key. Likewise if you need the period point for an ellipse (…), a decimal point (although the French use a comma in place of a point) or any and all website addresses and email addresses. 

Likewise the French are apparently fonder of jokes than they are of questions, since the exclamation point keys its own key while the question mark requires a shift. 

The § symbol gets equal prominence with the . since both are accessible through a shift key.

We had to Google § to see what it even is, it’s apparently a section sign used for numbering legal documents, so we can only assume that a lawyer (who also hated full stops) designed the Azerty keyboard.  

French vocab

Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, here are some of the most common

Full stop/period . point. Most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre)

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean point dupont arobas hotmail point fr. 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette


Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets