Après moi, le deluge

September 28, 2006 at 1:44 pm | Posted in vie quotidienne | 8 Comments

Just when you’re starting to feel a bit confident in this language, a tiny vocabulary hole comes along and takes over your whole day.

I headed out to market the other afternoon to pick up a few necessities — lettuce, onions, toothpaste, conditioner… Of course, I’d had a nice, nearly-full bottle of conditioner back in the States, but at the last minute I decided to leave it, rather than have it confiscated by terrorism-wary security guards or explode in my checked luggage (as my eye make-up remover did). So for the past week or so, I’ve been making do with a tiny hotel bottle of foul-smelling glop that has probably lived in this apartment since God knows when.

But having coaxed the last drop from that undersized vial, I thoughtlessly added the word “conditioner” to my shopping list and headed out the door. Only to realize, upon studying the toiletries aisle, that I had no idea what the French word for conditioner is.

Not a huge problem, you’d think. Obviously it will be in matching bottles, right next to the shampoo (called, adorably, “shampooing”), just like it is in America — and probably labeled something like “conditionneur“. Well, you’d be wrong.

Instead, you find things like “crème de bain hydratante”, “douche tonifiante”, “gel douche”, and “soin disciplinant boucles”. I can only put together the vaguest of meanings for these product terms (honestly, I’m not an expert on bath products even in America), but none of them seems quite right. In any case, I don’t have the confidence to just buy one, plop it on my hair, and find out.

So I go home empty handed, and do what any 21st century gal would do when faced with a transatlantic hair-care muddle: I check Google. Once again, not as simple as you might think. Enter the word “conditioner” into babelfish, and you get, predictably, “conditionneur”. But I already knew that wasn’t right. So then I try entering “conditioner french” into Google, but unfortunately am given loads of results for French Vanilla and French Lavender scented conditioners. No good.

Now I have to get craftier. I try “soins cheveux”, “soins cheveux douches” and any other combination I can imagine of French words relating to hair, shower, and care. Still, all I get are results for French shampoos and other assorted non-conditioning oddities. At one point I am given false hope when I find a “2 in 1” shampoo — surely, somewhere in the description it will explain what the 2 elements are, and one of them must be conditioner. But no, French labels turn out to be maddeningly vague, focusing on how happy and cared-for you’ll feel after using the product, rather than what it actually is or does.

Don’t worry, this story does have a happy ending. Inspiration struck, and I went to the Garnier website. I don’t recommend this experience — it’s an agonizingly complicated flash site and it takes a ton of complex surfing to even find the product page, which turns out not to be linkable. But I’ve used Garnier conditioner in America, so I know it exists. And I know Garnier is a French company — if I can just find the bottle that looks familiar, I’ll know what I need.

And the answer is… Après-Shampooing.

Oh, sure, now it seems obvious. But ever since being converted to the Curly Girl method, I don’t even use shampoo, so I don’t think of conditioner as being “after” anything. I had assumed that the few “Après-Shampooing” bottles I found contained weird “clarifying” creams or God knows what.

So finally, after all that searching, I was able to go down to the corner store and buy one over-priced bottle of hair conditioner.


And people asked me what I planned to do with my days.



  1. You have my sympathies. I was armed with the French and German vocabularies for all bath products, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of the products themselves (as I’m nothing without my products), and in Iceland I had the horrors of trying to buy toiletries whose main identifying language was Norwegian. The worst was face wash because there are so many types and thus, so many ways to get it wrong. The bottle I got was Nivea, but none of the languages were comprehensible to me. In the end, I had to have a friend with a rudimentary knowledge of Danish translate.

    I don’t know how the Icelanders do it. They’re all very well-groomed and don’t smell at all of eggs, which indicates that they’re using quite a lot of product indeed as their hot water is sulfur-tastic.

  2. That reminds me of buying laundry detergent in Germany – I was so impressed by the vanilla-scented liquid detergent that I bought it – and washed my clothes with it for a month – before realizing that it was actually softener!

  3. Ha! I’m glad everyone has had such similar experiences. I was starting feel like a real idiot.

  4. I lived overseas for 15 years growing up (Bolivia, South America). It was amazing all the variations and wierd products and substitutions you could figure out to use! 🙂

    Wierdest thing ever, though, was when I returned to the US, and before I married my husband, he in his bachelor pad had some kind of all purpose generic liquid soap and the label listed it was good for:

    Dishes, Hair, Body, Laundry….

    Maybe there’s some all purpose product there in Paris just waiting to be discovered! Ha!

  5. good for dishes… and hair? I think I’d be afraid to try it on either. 😉

  6. Ooooh! Doc Broner’s! (The all-purpose soap.) That stuff is great as soap/laundry detergent/a mild household cleanser. I wouldn’t put it in my hair, but that’s just me.

    It’s really super duper hippie stuff. I knew many a be-dredlocked vegan whose ONLY toiletry was a bottle of Doc Broner’s.

    (I don’t condone that. It’s a fine soap, but I’m still pro-not-washing-your-hair-with-soap.)

  7. Depends on your hair care budget, but you have to be let in on one of the French girl secrets, which is Leonor Greyl. You buy it in the haircare section at the parapharmacie. It is really really amazing, totally worth what it costs. In fact, after a sort of slapdash effort at Christmas one year when I just dashed into the parapharmacie for Frenchie products for my sisters, “Leonor Greyl” is now at the top of their wish list whenever I go home for a visit. Added bonus? The bottles all have English subtitles 🙂

  8. Nicole, what is it? Is it a conditioner, or something else? I admit, I’m intrigued.

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