Category Archives: Personal Care

Baring it All: What to expect at the French gynecologist

Today’s post is written by Aidan Larson. Aidan is the author of the popular blog Conjugating Irregular Verbs where she shares stories of her life in the South of France. Thank you Aidan!

When you think of moving abroad, doctors and health care are no doubt high up on your checklist. You wonder what you’ll do in an emergency as well as the random sinus infection, and if you have children, you are sure to find a doctor who can take care of them with checkups and preventive medicine.

But don’t forget about the gynecologists for the yearly going over that every woman needs. Just because you live abroad doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card for going to the gynecologist, even if you don’t know the French word for ovary. Admittedly, I put off my first French gynecologist appointment a bit longer than normal because I was nervous about finding a doctor who spoke English. And then I realized that, just as in all things, I would be able to figure it out. And if I can, then so can you.

One interesting plus is that the medical system in France is much more personalized. A visit to the doctor can be like a social call with an armful of prescriptions as your parting gift. But because of this, be prepared to wait patiently for your turn across the desk.

You will find large practices and clinics shared by several doctors just like in the U.S. but it is more common for your French doctor to have an office wedged into a section of a former residence or in some cases, inside their own residence. If there is a receptionist, she (it just usually is) sits at a desk taking calls and making appointments and is less concerned with announcing your arrival or taking payment. You just waltz right in and sit in the waiting room unannounced. This always feels a bit strange to my American sensibilities because we are so used to being announced and then called in by a nurse, but don’t worry. Somehow they know you’re there and they’ll come for you. I think it has to do with all the little buzzers and bells you sound upon entering the office.

In France it is more common for the doctor herself to come out and welcome you with a handshake. There are usually two portions of the doctor’s visit, gynecologist or not. You will meet and greet, exchange niceties, and then be directed to sit across the desk from the doctor to discuss the reason for your visit. Any paperwork, medical history, or concerns will be handled here, in conversation, rather than on a fill-in-the-blank form. This process can take awhile, especially if your French is around second grade level like mine, and may include drawings. But the doctors don’t mind. They really don’t.

The only time I remember going to a gynecologist appointment and sitting at a desk in all the years I visited the ob/gyn in Texas was during a pre-baby consultation to check for any genetic disorders. The rest of the time it was straight into the exam room, knickers off, gown on, perched on the table waiting for the exam. If this is what you’re used to, it may seem a bit strange to sit and chat about things across the desk while the exam table peeks out from behind a screen in the adjoining room. This leads me to the next portion of the French gynecologist visit.

After all the chit-chat the doctor will kindly ask you to go into the screened off exam area and take off your clothes. If you’re lucky there will be a tiny changing room where you can discreetly disrobe. If not, you’ll just have to chuck it all off right there. And I mean all of it. There are no softly worn cotton gowns with teal star designs or yellow duckies. There aren’t even any rough, blue paper gowns that gape open at the back. And there certainly is not a sheet to cover over your knees.

Nudity is not an issue in the doctor’s exam room. It’s as if you’ve passed through an invisible barrier from the get-to-know-you niceties into strip it and let’s have a look zone. I have had discussions with fellow non-French women about this, and we think it may be one of the reasons the French are obsessed with matching underwear. But of course you’re meant to peel your undies off too–at least you match while losing them!

Now, if I can give you any one piece of advice for a successful visit to the French gynecologist or obstetrician it is this: wear a skirt. This way you can slip off your dainties and leave the skirt on in order to maintain some level of Anglophone dignity. I even kept on my T-shirt (although braless), so on the surface it looked like I was just a normally dressed girl who happened to be up on a gynecological table in stirrups. The exam will be carried out in the usual way; sorry, that’s universal ladies. And then you’ll be done for the year, having marked another one off of the ‘scary things to do in another language’ list.

After this, you get yourself all back in order and return to the doctor’s desk to take care of any prescriptions (i.e. your goodie bag) and payment.

Here’s some helpful vocabulary to keep drawings to a minimum…(interesting how so many of the words are masculine!)

gynecologist le gynécologue
ovary l’ovaire
fallopian tubes les trompes de Fallope
uterus l’utérus
cervix le col
vagina le vagin
pap smear le frottis
menstrual cycle la menstruation
to menstruate avoir ses règles
menopause la ménopause
breasts les seins
mammogram la mammographie
pregnant enceinte
pregnancy la grossesse
miscarriage la fausse couche
birth la naissance
birth control la limitation des naissances
contraceptive le contraceptif
the pill la pilule
emergency contraception la contraception d’urgence
condom le préservatif
sexually transmitted infections infections sexuellement transmissibles (IST)
abstinence labstinence sexuelle
test (by doctor) l’examen
test (of blood, etc.) l’analyse
to test examiner
prescription la ordonnance, la prescription

Head Lice: An Itchy Issue

Translation: The head lice have arrived at school!

Itchy head? Just reading those words sends my scalp into a scratching frenzy, and chances are if you live in Paris you’ve seen this announcement posted on a bulletin board outside one of the city’s schools. French, international, private, and public, nearly every school in Paris faces yearly head lice infestations. Head lice are so common in the Île-de-France they even secured a spot in a recent promotion for French news source RTL. Their prevalence has made them movie stars!

In the U.S., most schools have a policy of regularly checking elementary school children for lice and barring students with any evidence of lice from attending school (the so-called no nit policy). In Paris, the administrators take a laissez faire approach toward the pesky louse. It may be that they believe that head lice are simply an unfortunate (and itchy!) right of passage for students or because they don’t have the political will to create strict rules. Whatever the reason may be, head lice take advantage of this lack of oversight and happily jump from one child to the next.

Without established procedures to reduce instances of head lice, prevention, detection, and treatment is left to parents. For many this means playing hairdresser and doing more loads of laundry than they’d like to count. Forget the “nit nurse,” it’s all parents when it comes to lice in the City of Light.

What to do if one of those buggers makes home sweet home on your child’s head?

  • Educate yourself in head lice 101. A little lice know how can prevent multiple and prolonged infestations, and the Internet makes becoming a lice expert easier than ever! For clear, concise, and scientifically vetted information, we recommend the CDC’s page on prevention and treatment.
  • Inform yourself on what’s happening in your child’s classroom. Are younger children sharing mats for naps? Are hats being shared for dress up or theater?  It may take guts to suggest to your teacher that Johnny sleep on his own mat (one you provide) but consider the alternative of repeated infestations.
  • As embarrassing as it may be, share the news of the infestation with the parents of your children’s friends. As always when dealing with the French, you will get best results when you accept responsibility before you seek allies. So ‘fess up. Your kid has lice. You just want to be sure others know so they don’t get infected. If you don’t want your child reinfected, make sure their friends are lice free before you send them on a play date or sleepover.
  • Invest in a really good lice comb, a strong pair of glasses, and a nontoxic treatment lotion. Your neighborhood pharmacist can recommend the products you need to deal with an infestation.

Getting Your Nails Done in Paris: A Guide for First Timers

by Lindsey Passaic

Like many women, I enjoy being pampered at the salon. But since the thought of going to a salon in Paris was more terrifying than relaxing, I found myself doing one home manicure after another with the same sloppy results each time. When I could not handle my imperfect polishing skills any longer, I finally braved a salon to get the classic French manicure.

Not wanting to embarrass myself beyond my already bitten and chewed nails, I spoke with a true Parisian woman (with a beautiful red manicure nonetheless!) to prepare myself for my first salon visit. In addition to teaching me basic nail vocabulary, she shared simple phrases to communicate with the nail technician.

Unwilling to pay top euro, I avoided chain salons and beauty institutes, instead searching for “mom and pop” shops with lower prices. The average price of a manicure at a full service beauty salon is between 25 and 50 euros. At a no-frills nail salon that price is cut drastically! For around 12 euros or less you can get a quick polish change and have ring-ready fingers in no time. But even for luxury enthusiasts, 12 euros may be too much (especially if you’re blessed with a steady hand and eye for color).  In Paris, like everywhere else, the cheapest and most convenient manicure is still the one give yourself. You can buy topcoat, polish, nail files, and polish remover at Sephora for a little less than 20 euros. Splurge a bit and you can find an all-in-one kit and have a French manicure at your fingertips whenever you please. Beauty Monop and Marionnaud also offer similarly priced products for creating a nail salon at home.

If you’re ready and willing to dive into the French beauty experience, here are my suggestions for getting the manicure you want:

1) Visit  Qype to search for Paris nail salons by neighborhood and price.

2) Visit Manucure & Beaute to find American-style nail salons in and around Paris.

3) Visit one of the following English speaking salons:

Stylepixie Salon
2 rue Edouard Vasseur
Ivry sur Seine 94200
Tel: 01 46 70 25 69

Artistic Nail
84 rue du Cherche-Midi
Paris 75006
Tel: 01 42 22 00 62


la main, les mains hand(s)
le ongle, les ongles nail(s)
la cuticule, les cuticules cuticle(s)
la manucuresoin des mains manicurenail care
la pédicuresoin des pieds pedicurefoot care
faux onglesles ongles gelles ongles acryliques fake nailsgelacrylic
les vernis à ongles nail polish
la lime à ongles nail file
le bloc abrasif nail buffer
le bloc polissoir, la lime finaliseur nail polisher
le bloc emeri emery board
le dissolvent doux sans acétone nail polish remover w/o acetone
dépose nail removal
ongle cassé broken nail
spray sechant pour vernis drying spray
Je voudrais une manucure. I would like a manicure.
Je voudrais une French manucure. I would like a French manicure.
Je voudrais un changement de vernis. I would like a polish change.
Je voudrais des faux ongles. I would like a set of fake nails.

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.

At the Salon

It is with some trepidation that we launch into making recommendations for beauty salons.   After all, what one woman considers classic, another considers frumpy.   But if you’re terrified about the thought of letting someone new touch your hair, much less someone with whom you cannot communicate with 100 percent confidence, here are some ideas for getting started.  If you have other suggestions, leave a comment and we’ll incorporate them into the post.  Note:  if you are under 26, many salons will offer you a discount.  If it’s not posted, it doesn’t hurt to ask.



A Cut Above
2, boulevard Fernand Hostachy
Croissy sur Seine
Phone: 01 39 52 01 44
Notes: Sandra speaks English.

Audebert Coiffure
88, boulevard Saint Germain 75005
Metro: Cluny-Sorbonne
Phone: 01 43 26 90 25
Notes:  Jean-Philippe, owner of this salon, speaks English.

Jean-Claude Biguine
Many locations in Paris
Notes: appointments not always necessary, good products

Richard Chambers Hair Salon
22 rue Scheffer 75016
Metro: Trocadero
Notes: Native English speaker

Coiffure Sylvie Sandy
6, rue Castellane 75008
Metro: Madeleine
Phone: 01 4265 4234
Notes:  “Daniel won’t charge you a ridiculous amount, but he is not one of those cheap clip places, either.”

Many locations in Paris
Notes:  “I like the way they do highlights there. Just paint them on – no fuss with foil or any of that stuff. I went to it in Hong Kong and found one in Neuchatel, Switzerland of all places. It is international. The one I go to is 4/6, rue de Gericault, 75016 (tel 01 42 24 71 24). The woman who did my color was Sylvie whom I liked very much.”

En a Parté
2, rue Edmond About 75016
Metro: Avenue Henri Martin or Rue de la Pompe
Phone: 01 45 04 51 12
Notes:  “They are a great local salon. Pedro & Mickael are extremely friendly and speak English.  My only basis for comparison price-wise is Frank Provost — and these guys are definitely more expensive.  But you can usually get last minute appointments and we’ve been pleased with their cuts (they cut the entire family’s hair!)  I’ve heard mixed reviews for color — but I’ve never had first hand experience.”

Hair Bar
3, rue de la Croix Nivert, 75015
Metro: Cambronne
Phone: 01 44 49 98 84
Notes:  “The owner speaks English and actually does what you ask.”

Jessika Ester
81, rue Jouffroy d’Abbans 75017
Metro: Wagram
Phone: 01 47 63 74 63
Notes: “Jessika cuts my hair and a colorist, Claude, colors it with her input. She speaks English. Fee is around 100 euros depending on what you have done.”

Jamal Fakih
55, avenue Marceau 75016
Metro:  George V
Phone: 01 40 70 00 20
Notes:  “Fancy neighborhood, small homey salon. Anna has twice given me an excellent haircut, exactly what I asked for.  And if color should ever be wanted, Catherine is very good as well.  They don’t speak English.”

Salon Manhattan
35, avenue Theophile Gautier, 75016
Metro: Eglise d’Autueil
Phone:  01 42 24  86 10.
Notes:  “The owner is named Sandra and she speaks English.  She worked in New York City for two years and then came back to Paris to open her own salon.  She cuts and colors my hair and the cost is about 85 euros.  I am happy with her and certainly she is a good start for people when they move, particularly as she speaks English.”

2, rue Edouard Vasseur
Ivry sur Seine 94200
Metro: Pierre et Marie Curie
Phone: 01 46 70 25 69
Notes: The entire team at Stylepixie speaks English.

Toni & Guy
248 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001
Metro: Palais Royale – Musee du Louvre
Phone: 01 40 20 98 20
Notes:  A number of the hair stylists and the receptionist speak English.

Joel Villard
16, rue de Saint-Simon, 75007
Metro: Rue de Bac
Phone: 01 45 55 85 69
Notes: The only licensed Aveda salon in France; all stylists are trained by Aveda and Aveda products are for sale. Most stylists speak some English.

Home services

“Paulo Sousa will wash, cut and blowdry hair in your home.  He uses the bathroom sink or the sprayer in your tub and cleans up everything as if he were never there.  I love him.  Only speaks French, but if I can handle it, you can.”
Phone: 06 46 36 38 77

“Severine, a stylist who works at a television station doing hair and makeup in the early mornings, is available for appointments in your home.  She is French but speaks English very well.”
Phone: 06 81 61 78 14

“Romain is very reasonably priced compared with what a person would play in a salon. He does both my cut and highlights and I think he does a great job. He speaks some English but not proficient.  I recommend him highly. ”
Phone: 06 98 19 44 67

“Natalie, who does nails and waxing, is the owner of Aquarelle Institut at 9, rue Saint-Didier in the 16th arrondissement.  She is beautiful, funny and speaks English as well!  She uses excellent products.”
Phone: 01 45 53 09 09

Kristina offers skin care treatments such as facials in her home in the 16th arrondissement.  Contact her by e-mail at 


Click here to go directly to the site for the sound files.  Scroll to the middle of the page for “At the Hair Salon/Chez Le Coiffeur.”

bangs la frange braid la natte / les tresses
highlights les mèches / le balayage ponytail la queue-de-cheval
hair cut la coupe de cheveux barette la barrette
blowdry le brushing head band le serre-tête
curly bouclés hair clips les pinces à cheveux
wavy ondulés hairband l’élastique (m)
frizzy frisés / crépus hairpin l’épingle à cheveux (f)
straight raides buzz cut la coupe en brosse
dyed teints completely shaved head la boule à zéro
lightened décolorés bald chauve
layered dégradé (note: effiler means to thin, not to layer!) part la raie

There is a slight difference between se couper les cheveux (to cut one’s hair – by oneself) and se faire couper les cheveux (to get one’s hair cut – by someone else). The same is true of se teindre les cheveux (to dye one’s hair – by oneself) and se faire teindre les cheveux (to get one’s hair dyed – by someone else).