“Isn’t that incredible??” Philippe called out of the family room last week. “These are DOGS. I can get a hair appointment for myself tomorrow!”
He’d just rung the two salons de toilettage recommended by a friend in nearby Cannes. They were full up. The first available booking at one spot was in 20 days’ time. At the other we had to wait over three weeks. “Impensable!” the groomers had cried. It was unthinkable that Philippe even mentioned an appointment this week.
But our miniature poodle Yoko needed a haircut. It had been a while. We’ve been reasonably diligent about brushing, but her teddy-bear cut is getting a little too realistic – especially with the Côte d’Azur heat.
Philippe searched the web, an experience that’s far less user-friendly in France than in North America. He made more calls. The groomers were either out of business, out of town, or booked to eternity. At last he rang our vet, who recommended a place here in downtown Antibes – and which happened to have an opening.
Today is the day Philippe, Lolo and I bring our miniature brown bear into town for her scheduled rendez-vous, leading her on taut leash along a narrow trunk road to the salon de toilettage. We’ve all come along to witness this important rite.
“Brigitte vous accueille,” says the glass door of the shop. Brigitte welcomes us. Unwieldy PetSmart box store, this is not.
The salon de toilettage stinks of cigarettes – another reminder of its foreignness. There’s a small front-of-store space offering a rainbow collars, leashes and beds, but otherwise this establishment is dedicated to le toilettage. One customer is just leaving with three small fluff balls, and a squadron of other pint-sized dogs inhabits the back area in various stages of grooming. Our miniature poodle ranks among the largest here.
The front door pops open and another customer greets Brigitte by name – by her first name, not by Madame or Monsieur Such-and-Such as is normally required by French etiquette. Goodness knows, we’ve never addressed our air-conditioning repairman – a chap who enters our home with unimaginable regularity – without a solid Monsieur.
Brigitte greets Philippe, Lolo and me from the back-of-store section. Her pretty face is framed by thick hair piled at her crown. A dark cover-all identifies her as one of the few groomers – as does the razor in her hand, which has been busily shaving a white-and-brown hound on a high table. Behind them is a washbasin, a blow-dryer, dog docking stations – typical dog salon stuff. And all around, the fur is flying.
“Yoko needs a cut that’s “très française,” Philippe declares with a little too much flair as he presents the curly masses of our dog.
“Quel âge a-t-elle?” How old is she? The salon owner asks.
“Just over a year. She was born on the 14th of July. Le jour de la Fête nationale!” Bastille Day. Philippe is clearly proud.
“Ahhh, she’s a bleu-blanc-rouge!” Brigitte says cheerily. She’s a real French girl! By the warmth of her voice, she is both capable and fun. The owner surveys Yoko’s ample coat and overgrown eyes. “Oui,” she says, “Yoko needs une belle coupe.”
Philippe says it again (as if once isn’t more than enough): “Donnez une coupe beaucoup plus française.” Give her a haircut that’s a lot more French.
At this point Lolo can stand it no longer. She tries unsuccessfully to break into the repartee with a concerned “mais . . . .”
I know what my 11-year old wants to say. She worries what a “very French” poodle haircut will look like. We’ve made only one fashion rule when it comes to our poodle: There will be no pompons in our house.
Conversation turns to Yoko’s face, her ears, her head, her feet. “On va garder le pantalon?” Brigitte asks. We keep the trousers?
“Ahh, oui, le pantalon,” Philippe says. Yes. Don’t shave Yoko’s legs!
Et gardez la queue, Lolo chimes in. Don’t shave her tail!
By the time we leave the salon de toilettage, none of us are sure what we will find when we return. But three hours later Philippe is in love.
“Never before has Yoko looked aussi belle!” he coos.
Lolo isn’t so sure. She’s worried about the shape of Yoko’s head. Yoko, on the other hand, is elated to be heading home – but I can tell by the small prance in her step that she feels pretty fancy. To keep her looking this way, Brigitte even welcomes Lolo on the other side of the salon barrier for some one-on-one tutelage.
At last Brigitte rings up the bill. Like the relative cost of a human haircut in Antibes, Yoko’s grooming bill is almost half-price compared to Toronto. Beauty – in its various guises – is one item that’s consistently cheaper in France.
As I pay, I tell Brigitte that our vet recommended her.
“People tell me I’m la meilleure – the best – in Antibes!” she says with pride and charm.
‘You’re la seule – the only one – in Antibes,” her colleague says, in the same tone that an 11-year old tells her mother she already knows how to brush a dog.
“I don’t know. But I do get really good press,” Brigitte says.
It’s true – and we will continue this trend. Philippe, Lolo and I leave Brigitte’s shop with a belle and slightly chichi pooch, tips for her future grooming – and a promise that we’ll be back next year.