Fear the beard – a French farce?
I live part of the year in the US and the other part in France. I’ve grown accustomed to the differences between the two countries but I’m still surprised sometimes.
The hunt for a beard trimmer: surprise
This happened once when I was in France and my beard trimmer broke. I went to buy a new one at the local Intermarché, one of the big French supermarkets that carry just about everything.
I found the tondeuse I was looking for in the same aisle that had hair dryers and curling irons and things like that. Except that the beard trimmers were kept in a locked cabinet. What’s up with that, I wondered.
I tracked down a clerk and asked her to unlock the cabinet so I could get the one I wanted, one that only costs about $20. She took it out but wouldn’t give it to me –
No, no, that would not be secure Monsieur! Beard trimmers must follow a special security procedure!
I think it must be like the one for a nuclear weapons factory.
The security process: frustration
First, I was told to go to the ‘Special Bureau’ at the front of the store.
I did that, expecting the lady there to give me the beard trimmer so I could go pay.
“Oh non, Monsieur! That would not be secure!”
Instead, she gave me a long code to hand to the clerk in the checkout line.
This mystified the poor clerk, who must only deal with women, children and clean-shaven men. But eventually, we sorted it out. I paid him and received yet another piece of paper, this one with a new code, to take back to the Special Bureau.
At this point, I was nervously expecting a retinal scan or maybe a cavity search, but happily, I got my beard trimmer.
The beard trimmer: a threat?
I asked the lady at the Special Bureau why beard trimmers were kept locked up while the much more expensive hair dryers were not. She looked around carefully, leaned forward and said in a low voice, “Because of the thieves!”
Yes, it seems that beard trimmers are the most-stolen items in Intermarché stores nationwide, thus prompting the lockdown. I thanked her for this important news and held my trimmer tightly, scanning the parking lot as I walked carefully to my car.
All bearded men in France: a manifestation?
Later I thought…
- is this really the best way to deal with the nationwide epidemic of beard trimmer robberies?
- Is French society well served by having its thieves unable to trim their beards, eventually looking like refugees from a ZZ Top concert?
- Maybe I should lead the other men in town for a protest march – a very French thing to do.
After neatly trimming my beard, of course!
Have you experienced such strange cultural differences in France? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
- Beard by Aaron Bateman via flickr
- Reach by Alexandra Lam via Unsplash
- Close trim by Regalado vis flickr
How about the widely-held fear of “les courants d’air”? Almost every French person I know is convinced that any random draft or flow of air in an enclosed space (in the house e.g.) is dangerous and can cause a fatal “angine” or respiratory infection. In the hottest of weather, they close up the house as tight as a drum. As a result, in the summer of 2003, when there was a canicule (heat wave), when I was living there….there was not an electric fan to be found in any home improvement store. I’m not a big lover of air conditioning, but a nice flow of air or a breeze, and I can cope with the heat. In France that summer, 15,000 elderly people died shut up in their homes. It was a combination of other factors as well: relatives of these people, and medical personnel were all away on their sacrosanct vacations…so there was no one to look after these people. However, France was the only country in Europe that had so many deaths attributable to the heat wave…which was widespread in all of western Europe. It is extremely interesting to note: the next summer when I looked for fans, they were everywhere in all the home improvement stores and the hypermarchés (Carrefour, Auchan, Intermarché,Leclerc). I have tried in vain to convince my French friends of the lack of logic in this belief…..to no avail.
Thanks for your comment Kathy. I well remember that summer, it was so very hot and the death toll and how the elderly died was appalling! I agree. How much has been learned since then, I’m not sure either…
Maybe it’s a European thing. When I lived in Switzerland you were never allowed to open a window on a train, no matter how hot the weather. If you did, everyone would start yelling at you to close it. There seems to be a deathly fear of drafts!