Disclaimer: Apologies for the long stillness – there have just not been enough hours in the day, too many distractions, well… and French wine :)
In the past year, my first year,… of life in France, my high-school and university French has been challenged on a daily basis.
I think often that I want to call up my first French teacher, Madame Dale, and tell her how thankful I am for the grounding she laid, for the love of the language she evoked.
But there has also been a lot to learn – expressions, colloquialisms, technical terms in tax documents, the right term for primer versus acrylic paint, “What’s a ‘drill/ pressure valve/ screw/ double-sided tape/ electric blanket/ window trim/ groove/ electric circuit board/ potato smasher’ in French?”
At least now I can say “Can you deliver?” in French without hesitation… and more importantly, “WHEN can you deliver?” :D
My tenses and pronouns have stood the test of a couple of glasses of wine, of getting angry, and even of overwhelming technical terminology.
But yesterday I faced my ultimate test….
Going to the hairdresser.
You may think that’s a small and trivial thing – but… let’s face it… a bad haircut could wreck life.
I should mention here that I – and other expats I know – have actually found this very personal thing to be such a big deal and crazy gamble that we’d rather buy a plane ticket somewhere to the hair-chair we know!
But timing had made that option moot for me and so I decided… I needed to get past the expat-angst and dig in.
First there was the saga of figuring out WHICH hairdresser to go to. Easy in a place like Amsterdam or San Diego or London where people live and decide by YELP! Not so easy in a small town… where salons don’t even have websites and one where there are more hair salons than one can fathom (a bit like the Irish phenomenon where even the smallest village, those you don’t even realize you’ve already driven through, have at least two pubs. Well, here it’s hair salons… And manicurists. French women know where their priorities lie.)
So I decided to be… strategic? Smart? Desperate?
For two weeks, at every opportunity out and about, I paid extremely close attention to other women’s hair. And if I saw someone with a cut that was particularly cute … I strapped on my French phrases and accosted them.
Well, not accosted them – although from their perspective that was probably accurate… There was me… often dusty and in the same remodeling-worn-work-clothes that I have been pretty much smelling in for weeks… coming up to them in broken French and asking “Excuse me… but I love your haircut and I am new to the area. Would you mind telling me who is your hairdresser?”
The facial expressions I got ranged from aghast to shocked to hilarious.
But they all gave me recommendations! Sometimes not ones that I could follow the details of… but I got them. And the same name kept popping up… Virginie… next to the La Cheminée restaurant.
‘Rendez-vous’ made… I gathered my courage to the sticking place and went to see Virginie.
Do you realize how much direction one gives a hairdresser? And how specific it needs to be? Or one HOPES it to be? And then comes the small-talk and chatting… you can’t just sit there like a statue for an hour!
Like many things in the past year – the challenge came from an unexpected direction. The hard part, I had figured, would be figuring out the WHO. Turns out… it was the guts to be able to trust that someone with scissors in hand got what you were telling them in a language not your own.
Here’s to surviving my first French do! :)