27 May 2010

Monsieur Coiffure

I got a haircut yesterday, only my second in Switzerland. You wouldn't think such a simple thing would be a cultural touchstone, but it's not all cheese and watches over here, you know.

My first Swiss haircut was "une catastrophe." That was in 2008 when I was staying in Geneva for 3 months. My future wife advised going to L'Academie de Coiffure because she knew I'm cheap, and she had once gotten a good haircut there a few years before. The young student whose chair I landed in looked alarmed at my wild, boingy locks, especially when I showed her a photo of a rare moment when my hair was quite civilized. I told her I wanted it to look that way again. An hour later I looked way different -- as if a hungry badger had grazed on my head.

Still scarred by that experience, I'd been reluctant to commit to a barber here in Neuchatel, even though my hair had become indistinguishable from the brambles in the woods behind our house. I asked my neighbor for advice, but he's mostly bald, so that didn't get very far. I did not ask the plumber who installed our miraculously expensive ultra-violet water purifier because his hair looked like a tsunami turned inside out. We dubbed him Monsieur Coiffure.

But his is not typical of Swiss men's haircuts. Almost every man here is excruciatingly well coiffed. Their hair may be short or long, but it is going to be exceedingly well styled, as though cut by a watchmaker. Even moreso the women. In the last place I lived, the rainforest of a Hawaiian island, the women tend to let their hair imitate the jungle, and it generally looks attractively wild ... except when moss actually starts growing in it.

But in Switzerland, the women, like the men, generally prefer a very defined, shaped cut, often with bangs and sharp angles that sometimes resemble a knight's helmet. Which probably explains the incredible number of hair salons you find in the cities. It seems like there's one on every block. When I first visited Paris, I wondered how there could possibly be a patisserie on every block. How could all those little businesses be supported? In Switzerland, it's coiffure salons. It seems like every man, woman and child would have to get snipped, styled or dyed once every three days to support all these salons.

Anyway, I eventually asked my new friend Marc for a coiffeur recommendation. My wife has known Marc for years, and she says he is that rare individual who both hates to waste a centime and loves the finer things in life. Plus, his hair is wild, yet bohemian-respectable. He recommended Pub Coiff.

And yesterday at Pub Coiff I got one of the best haircuts of my life -- for just 19 francs. I even gave monsieur a one-franc tip because he was endlessly patient with my fractured French, allowing us to carry on the traditional manly barber-customer conversations about the sad state of the world today and the saving grace of women's bodies. As luck would have it, Venus Williams' wondrous butt was prominently featured that day on the sports and fashion pages of the newspapers he had lying around.

Soon after, we parted, shaking hands with ink on our fingers, both of us knowing I'd be back.


  1. Glad you had a good hair experience. If you can believe it, I've been here four years and still haven't braved a Swiss hairdresser...

  2. If you get tired of your long tresses, hop on the train to Neuchatel and check out Pub Coiff. A woman there also cuts women's hair.

    And speaking of tresses, we have some in our freezer -- the bread, not the hair. The wife likes it, me, no, except to look at. Love those golden-brown braids.