Monthly Archives: November 2010

Straight Razor Shaves in Paris

by Patrick Thuhn

A straight-razor shave is one of the great pleasures that a man can enjoy, a wonderful way to relax, and indeed used to be part of the ritual of barbering. To this day in southern Italy, any local barber will provide such a service reliably for as little as 4€ or 5€, and some men still go daily to the barber for a shave. In recent years, both in major U.S. cities as well as Paris, a few specialized barbers have reintroduced the service, albeit at a much higher price.

Alain Maître Barbier, at 8, rue St-Claude in the 3rd arrondissement (Métro: St-Sebastien-Froissart) is generally regarded as the leader in straight-razor shaving in Paris. The small two-chair salon, shared by Alain and Patrick, is a veritable museum of shaving, with a vast array of historical shaving instruments on display. Both barbers are extremely skilled in their art, and I have never received a single nick. In addition to the actual shave (two passes, with and against the grain), the procedure includes hot towels, creams, etc. The shop is closed Sunday and Monday. A shave is 30€, a haircut 28€. Appointments are essential and should be made at least one week in advance. Tel: 01 42 77 55 80

L’Atelier Gentleman at 17, rue Caulaincourt (near the Cimetière Montmartre, Métro: Place de Clichy or Lamarck-Caulaincourt) has the advantage of being open on Monday afternoon (14:00-20:00). There is only one barber, so appointments are essential. A shave is 31€, a haircut also 31€. Tel. 01 42 52 54 79

Les Mauvais Garçons, who, despite their name, are quite harmless, have two locations: at 60, rue Oberkampf in the increasingly trendy 11th arrondissement, and at 38, rue de la Verrerie in the men’s shop of the BHV department store. Appointments are essential, but can be booked only one week in advance. Both a shave and a haircut are 22€ at Oberkampf, but at BHV haircuts are 25€ and shaves 32€. Both shops are open on Mondays. Tel. Oberkampf 01 48 05 73 58, BHV 01 42 72 36 22. Both locations are geared toward a younger clientele than Alain or L’Atelier Gentleman.

An additional address, which I have not tried personally, is Patrick Gannerie, 8, rue de Wattignies, in the 12th arrondissement. Tel. 01 46 28 64 19.

A wide assortment of razors, shaving creams, shaving brushes, and other gear can be found at the men’s store of BHV (38, rue de la Verrerie, Métro: Hôtel de Ville), but the largest selection in Paris is at Planète-Rasoir, 58 rue de Clichy (9th arrondissement, Métro: Place de Clichy), which also has an extensive Web site.


The Grass is Always Greener: An Expat Reflects

Today’s post is reposted with permission from PrêteMoi Paris, the blog of Melissa Ladd, another American in Paris.  Melissa blogs to share her musings,  ideas, Paris fashion, places she loves, things she tests, things she tastes,  travel tips, inspirations and more. Her original post includes embedded musical cues; if you want the soundtrack, head on over to her blog and read the post there. It’s worth a read either way.

by Melissa Ladd

These are my meditations upon cultural awareness and integration in the city of Paris.

I recently read a blog post by Tory Hoen on HiP Paris blog that got me thinking it was time for a post of my own on what she calls “the Paris effect”.

I remember back in the day when I wasn’t a “real” ex-pat, when my time here was in intervals and I ached if I were away from my beloved Paris. Paris had EVERY “magical” quality back then, and NOTHING about this city turned me off. (Those were also days when I lived a students’ existence and life was a bit more carefree). I distinctly remember having returned after a long period of about a year, and being totally re-enchanted and enthralled by the metro of all things…! In her article, Tory also talks about how others become instantly jealous when you mention your current or former ex-pat status. They have these notions that Paris is full of macaron butter-cream dreams and storybook strolls and angelic avenues of beauty and happiness, and tra-la-la-la…

My point here is not to preach about how it’s unrealistic to have those fairytale dreams about Paris and explain how the promotion of this type of mentality can be detrimental to those who dream of it and to the city itself… but, okay, well actually that IS what I am going to do. But I will also tell you WHY it can be a dangerous dream… and then I will explain how I plan to deal with this “epidemic” in my own life.

Before arriving in Paris, most of us had been dreaming about it for a while. All of our fantasies and hopes and desires were all wrapped up in the amazing possibilities that were to come of the experience of Paris : the life changing experience of the city of lights. Paris was our fairy godmother who would transform us into special, beautiful, classy, cultivated, smart, sassy, suave and swanky ladies (or gentlemen…but I have observed that it’s the ladies who come with the most expectations and fantasies and not the men).

And then we arrive here, and our heart races, it’s like being in love!  Oh LOVE!  There is the initial starry-eyed sweep around the city where we are dazzled by the sparkling tower, and in awe of the enormous Louvre monument, and in tears at the view from the top of Notre Dame; we think how amazing the French are because they “invented” the macaron (actually it was the Italians), and we rave about the sophistication of these creatures that seem to be everywhere primmed to perfection in every way. We are in gracious awe of how the people can stand up and fight for their rights and applaud the protests (with only a semi-understanding of what they are for). We rave gloriously about the efficiency of the transportation system and the health system and the small commerces and boutiques that remain a part of that quaint Paris we had always dreamed of (but then we proceed to shop at the Galleries Lafayette…how ironic).

And then, ladies, and then…the blisters arrive from wearing heels to often and walking our bloated feet over cobblestone. Then the strikes hit hard and we are faced with the dilemma of how to get from point A to point B. Then we have to wait an hour (or four) to see a doctor because we went to the hospital for a broken pinky toe on a Saturday evening.  Then we find ourselves enjoying the sparkling Eiffel tower amongst a pushy crowd of hundreds of tourists and foreigners and are devastated to find out wallet has been stolen in the mean-time. Then we get the experience of French bureaucracy when we have to complete the process of validating our visa at the Prefecture de Police.


And we notice finally that life is not one big pink fluffy parade here after all. And after all this prancing and primping and shopping, skipping around town, we see ourselves in a less “romantic” light and realize that we are, well, just ourselves, and that Paris is well…a city. And Paris isn’t perfect, and she doesn’t have a magic wand to transform us into that perfect self we were so hoping she would. Paris is Paris and will always be Paris whether we subscribe to what the city gives or not. And we are the same person we were before we came, and Paris doesn’t really pay much attention to us, let alone sprinkle us with fairy dust. And Paris suddenly seems to have some less pristine aspects we are so shocked to learn. Gasp! Oooh MY!

We move into preservation mode. 

Preserve the dream at all costs!


We start by running around trying to make ourselves fit in. We cut our hair – like a French woman, we put on a little makeup when we go to the market, and we shop with a conscious effort to Frenchify our wardrobe. Fake it till you make it??? Right? Not so easy… we soon realize that the coiffure is not real a good one for our face shape, that the make up everyday makes our skin oily and blemished, and that our bank account is weeping tears of pain every time we enter a fashion store. This lasts for a while as we try to force ourselves into this “French identity” (as if that’s all the French identity could ever amount to : a fabulous coiffure and a smart outfit with a scarf and perfectly applied lipstick) that we thought we were going to assume quite naturally and that it turns out sits on us like an ill-fitted prom dress at an after-work cocktail party. We feel like big sore thumbs and our foreignness  seems to stick out like a badly painted toenail in an open toe stiletto. We try to find some French friends…but they are so elusive and appear to be snobby. No one ever invites us for drinks, but they ALL seem to be having drinks in bistros and bars and on café terraces. Why can WE join them? Don’t they like us?  So we pick up smoking to help play the part, and we learn a new phrase to two that’s useful in getting attention or commencing a conversation with the natives, like something about existentialism or independent movies (you know like, stuff the natives like to umm like talk about, right?) but we end up only getting hit on and accosted by the men who all think that it’s fine to ask someone on a first date to THEIR HOUSE… even the dogs hump our legs without asking. Where has all that magic gone? And why don’t we feel welcome here anymore? And why do we seem so different?

The realization that we can’t fit in entirely, deepens and we see that we are attempting to integrate in a way that is superficial (meaning only surface deep) and perhaps doesn’t necessarily suit us in one or two of several ways, whether it’s financially, physically, psychologically and linguistically…. linguistically especially because you lose your sense of humor being that you don’t know how to be funny in French. You lose your worldliness (or what you thought was your worldliness) because all you have learned in French class so far is how to talk about yourself, and you lose your friendliness because you end up a wall flower who doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation since you have absolutely NO IDEA what the conversation is about, and you give into daydreaming instead. Then the size of the Parisians suddenly become very apparent, and you feel  like you tower 3 feet over them, even though it may only be an inch, and not over EVERYONE either. And how DO those French people afford to sit at a café terraces every day, the café crème costs about 4 euros! That’s about 70 euros a month! So you go without eating to compensate. But then you are starving (and a student) so you allow yourself the cheapest thing out there, a baguette. One a day = needing to buy a new pair of jeans within three weeks time.

So how do we combat this crushing of the dream?

When these “short-comings” (which are just really a poor comprehension of how to go about integration) become largely apparent, one tends to lash out with criticism. For example : “How ridiculous of the French/Parisians to do this thing that way! In my country we do it SO much better…” or this : “The French are so lazy, how do they imagine anything is going to ever improve. If they were a little more flexible they might see some progress…” or perhaps this : “Can you believe they say these things! Oh my god, it’s so rude! We would never say such a thing where I’m from.” etc. etc. etc. At this point there is almost a repulsion of whatever the French do, say, like, wear… “The French are so rude!” … “The French are so snobby” … “The French criticize capitalisme but they seem to love it in their business world!” … “The French think they are so superior“… etc. etc. etc. One returns to the comfort of things that are familiar and “safe”, a zone that feels protective and coddles us in our fears and frustrations as well as makes us feel less different all the time; and there is a terrible longing for the homeland. And there is an almost constant critique that plays like a broken record whenever you are faced with coming into contact with the natives.

Some people call this culture shock or a version thereof. It can also be thought of as a realization that the fairy-tale dreams that you conjured up before arriving are in fact your own invention and not reality at all. In a word it is just : disillusionment.

After mulling over this phenomenon for the past eight years or so that I have been in Paris, I am still puzzled at how we (I include myself because I have to admit that there was a point in time when I was a variation of that dreaming-then-whining person that I am ranting about now), how can we be so obnoxious as to impose our expectations upon Paris and upon the French? Who are we to tell them what they should be like? All because we don fit in as easily as we thought we would… because in fact it’s not like we assumed it would be here, and we don’t have French friends by the dozens and über cool political debates on café terraces while we smoke cigarettes and sip wine, and then shop for a new wardrobe on the Champs Elysées. No. In fact the Champs Elysées is void of French; it’s only full of tourists and stores way beyond our price range, the political conversations are far over our head and concern a country where we don’t really know all the players and nuances, and it isn’t held on café terraces with complete strangers, it’s held in living rooms amongst family members of which we have none here.

And the dozens of friends we thought we’d have? Well so far we have three, one is from Vietnam and speaks broken French and little to no English but is really enthusiastic, another is American and only talks about partying at the different rave clubs in the city, but you hang around her because there is no one else, and the third one is this slightly odd guy that keeps asking you on these pseudo-dates and you go telling yourself that it’s great for practicing your French conversation but you find yourself having to conjure up excuses why you can’t be his girlfriend.

Let’s talk about why the “dream” or the “Paris effect” can be so dangerous?

I believe that it can be so “dangerous” because it promotes a false reality, and imposes upon Paris, France and the French, and identity that is not necessarily their own, an identity that has been created by stereotypes and the marketing of the tourism industry that wants to sell you the “perfect” trip to Paris. For tourists, this is fine, this is acceptable, I can understand that need to have a perfect vacation, but this idea has seeped over into pockets of people who come over here for a longer period of time, for a few months or a year or longer.

What I changed in my own self and what I am seeing myself lose patience with in others, is the traveler who comes here for a certain period of time, and expects Paris to be as they had always dreamed it to be. Why do we not come here with an open mind and and fewer expectations? Why don’t we allow Paris to be its own entity, to accept Paris for what it is and find enjoyment in that? The fairy-tale dreams should be left at home. And the differences that shock the dream and crumble it to pieces should be embraced as a chance to experience something that you would otherwise never know. Why? Because by accepting what’s different, we learn more about the world and understand it deeper than ever before; and in that lesson we are able to know ourselves better, and thus grow as humans. If we all did this wherever we went, the world would be a much more understanding place.

Open your eyes and your mind… Paris will take you in if you love her for what it is, and not what you want it to be.  Once you have been able to do this in Paris (or anywhere you travel for that matter) …then AND ONLY THEN do you have every prerogative to delve into the frivolous, magical sides that the city and culture has to offer, because then (and only then) can you truly appreciate them. It’s all about a balancing act, and allowing yourself to be captivated by the sparkle and shine as well as educating yourself about the deeper and more difficult sides to the city. We cannot live on “dessert” alone!

The Parisian dream will really only become true for those who are willing to understand and accept the city for all of her facets and flaws. Let Paris be free and you will find a place that is better than any fairy tale you could fantasize about, a place that is rich with all kinds of people, places, faces, and experiences.  The magic comes alive to those who stand the test of disillusionment, who let go of their preconceived notions and allow themselves to become aware of this place that has so much more to offer than gastronomic cuisine and fancy things, pastry shop sweets and couture boutiques. If that’s all you ever see in Paris, then you have not seen Paris at all.

Hitting the Gym

If you are still learning French, you may think that taking an exercise class in Paris is beyond your capabilities.  But think about it this way; if you’ve ever been to an aerobics class with the volume cranked up, you know that it’s possible to follow along by watching rather than by listening.  On the other hand, the prospect of going right when everyone else is going left, or being singled out by the instructor, can be downright scary.   But since you probably need to get out there and burn off a few of those pastries you’ve been eating, here are a few vocabulary words you’ll likely hear at the gym.   If nothing else, you’ll soon learn to count to eight forwards and backwards.  Courage!

Parts of the Body

la tête: head
le visage: face
le menton chin
le cou: neck
la poitrine: chest
les abdominaux: abdominals
le bras: arm
les épaules: shoulders
les pectoraux: pectorals
le coude: elbow
le poignet: wrist
la main: hand
le dos: back
les fessiers, fesses: butt
la jambe: leg
les cuisses: thighs
le genou: knee
la cheville: ankle
le pied:  foot
la pointe des pieds: tiptoe


Aller: to go but often in this case, let’s go
Balancer: to swing
Bloquer: to hold in place
Courir: to run
Descendre: to go down, descend
S’écarter: to move apart (as in moving legs or arms apart)
Flechir: to bend
Lever: to raise
Marcher: to walk
Monter: to go up
Se pencher: to incline
Plier: to bend
Pomper: to pump (as in pushups)
Relâcher: to let go, relax
Respirer: to breath in
Rester: to stay in place
Souffler: to breath out
Sauter: to jump


droite: right
gauche: left
en haut: up high
en bas: down low
vers la glace: to the mirror
à l’arrière: to the rear
changer de côté: to change sides
l’autre côté: the other side


le banc: bench
le baton: stick
l’elastique: rubber band
les haltères: hand weights, dumb bells
le rameur: rowing machine
le tapis: the mat
le tapis de course: treadmill 

The Gym

le vestiaire:  locker room
hamman: sauna
les douches: showers
le casier: locker
la cabine: dressing cubicle

And then there are my personal favorites:  le stretching and le step touch.  Both of these mean exactly what you’d think.

History Comes Alive

Even when you’ve got your day-to-day bearings in Paris and feeling finally like your head is staying above water, there’s still plenty to learn.   Whether it’s knowing the significance of the street names in your quartier, keeping all those King Louis straight, or understanding better why French society operates the way it does, reading a bit of history may be just the ticket.  Here are a few of our favorites.   Most of these titles can be found in the English language bookshops in Paris or at The American Library in Paris.

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Want to know everything there is to know about the French Revolution? A good place to start is Harvard history professor Simon Schama’s tome published on its 200th anniversary.  The events leading up to the Revolution, the accidents of fate and circumstance that could have rendered a completely different outcome, and the players large and small who were at its center are all laid out for the reader to savor in a very accessible style.  Don’t be put off by the 875 pages of text (and an additional 75 for notes and index) — it holds up extraordinarily well.

The Discovery of France:  A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War is an inquiry by Graham Robb, author and historian of France, into the disparate regions, languages, and customs that comprise France.  He takes the reader on a journey through France, wondering aloud along the way how it managed to be a country at all, given how isolated and insulated many of its parts have been for much of the past 200 years.  At the time of the Revolution, Abbe Henri Gregoire set out to establish a common tongue for France, which although dominated by French and Occitan, was also a country where Basque, Breton, Flemish and Alsatian were the primary regional tongues.  If the peasants were “too ignorant to be patriotic,” how could the Revolution hope to hold?  Yet in 1880 the percentage of inhabitants of France who felt comfortable speaking French was estimated to be only about 20 percent.  A great read for the curious Francophile with access to a good regional atlas.  

The Four Queens:  The Provençal Sisters who Ruled Europe.  Once upon a time, when the country of France as we know it today did not yet exist, there lived four beautiful princesses in a magical kingdom known as Provence. Not one of them pricked her finger on a spindle, kissed a frog, or was locked up in a forgotten tower. Actually the true story of their lives, chronicled by Nancy Goldstone in this book turns out to be more fascinating than pretty much any fairy tale. Marguerite, Eleanor, Beatrice, and Sanchia found themselves at the center of all the political and religious intrigue of the 13th century, eventually becoming queens of France, England, Sicily, and Germany. I wouldn’t say they all lived happily ever after but there’s plenty of juicy stuff here: trips to exotic lands, ransoms, wars, contracts made and broken, scheming mothers and uncles, family feuds, and heaps of treasure. If you thought the Middle Ages were dull, think again. Goldstone paints a vivid picture that has pretty much any fairy tale beat.

Is Paris Burning?   If you think that the credit for the liberation of Paris goes to the Americans, who after invading Normandy, motored their way up to Paris, down the Champs Elysees, kissed a few girls, and called it a day, you have some reading to do.   And for that, I highly recommend Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The book was a best seller and then a hit movie in the 1960s, not surprising because it reads more like a novel than a history. There’s the tension within the French resistance (the Communists versus de Gaulle’s Free French), the battle of wills between the commanders of the Allied Forces and the French fighters, the heroism of ordinary citizens and soldiers, and the sad character of Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of German forces in France, who after laying waste to Rotterdam and Sebastopol, in the end, decided to surrender Paris rather than destroy it according to Hitler’s orders. There are some dark stories here about the bravery and suffering of those who risked all for France and the shameful treatment of those considered collaborators after the Germans were gone. But there are also light hearted moments, tales of family reunions and marriages made from chance encounters.

Sixty six years is not such a very long time, particularly for a place like Paris. But imagine what it would have been like had the war gone the other way or even if the Nazis had lit the fuses on their way out of town. Happily, that didn’t happen. Read this book and you’ll discover a cast of thousands who deserve some of the thanks.

Marie Antoinette, the biography by British historian and novelist Antonia Fraser, was the inspiration for Sofia Coppola’s film of the same name.  And that should tell you that this is no dusty, musty text.  Fraser doesn’t hide her affection for Marie Antoinette , sketching a portrait of a young girl ill-prepared for her role and ill-served by those surrounding her.  Also worth noting is another one of Fraser’s books, Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King, which dishes up all the details on his relationship with his mother, wife, and multiple mistresses.

Napoleon and Egypt by Paul Strathern offers up a great story as well as some insight on the man who later would become emperor.  Napoleon’s sojourn in Egypt was pretty much a debacle — his entire fleet was sunk in Aboukir Bay by the British, both cutting off his supply lines and stranding him in the Middle East; he lost soldiers by the thousands to massacres, the plague, and other privations; and he was unable to hold onto any of the military victories he had there. He even lost the Rosetta Stone, deciphered by a Frenchman, to the British Museum. But the man was a genius when it came to public relations. He came back to a France hungry for a military hero and its people, worn out by revolution, corruption, and war, pretty much ended up handing him the empire. His adventures there became legend and the fascination with all things “oriental” defined styles in furniture and fashion. And his decision to bring along a team of savants, experts in science, mathematics, and the arts, meant that there was a lasting legacy of new knowledge about a world long mysterious to Europeans.

Napoleon’s Women by Christopher Hibbert picks up after the flight from Egypt.  This biography focuses of course on Napoleon’s two wives, Josephine and Marie Louise, and his many mistresses but also chronicles Bonaparte’s own rise to power and eventual fall. At first, Hibbert can scarcely contain his contempt for Josephine, pretty much calling her a slut and a spendthrift, but later softens. It’s a good way to learn about the Napoleonic era without having to spend too much time on the battlefield.

Seven Ages of Paris by British historian Alistair Horne begins in the time of Julius Caesar and from there, it’s full steam ahead straight through to the student revolutions of May 1968.   Horne is a great storyteller and brings to life many of the great personalities of French history —  Henri IV,  Louis XIV, Napoleon, de Gaulle.  And yet this book is much more than a catalogue of famous men; he also vividly captures sweeping social and political movements.    The New York Times Book Review called it “consistently bewitching”, not words normally used for a history book.

Any titles you’d add to this list?

Special thanks to David Stonner for his contributions to this post.