France is a funny place. Wherever you look, whichever way you turn, there are wry commentaries, jokes, puns and terrible shaggy dog stories.
One of my favourites is the sign that you still see painted on café walls: Mieux vaut boire ici qu’en face (You’re better off drinking here than over the road). At first glance, it’s not side-splitting, but where I live the café is opposite the church.
Coiffeurs are also very keen on jokes and often use bad puns when naming their shops.
I’ve spotted hairdressers called Adult’hair, Inter Planet Hair, and Sup Hair Belle as well as a restaurant called Thaï Tanic, a locksmith called Surelock Homes, and a removals company called Jean-Claude Van Man. It pays to keep your eyes peeled when out and about in France.
I also like the terrible Carambar jokes printed on the insides of the wrappers. In the same style as the jokes you get inside Papillotes de Noël (French Christmas sweets), they’re so bad, they’re good.
Quelle est la femelle du hamster? (What is a female hamster called?) You won’t guess it because it’s too groan-worthy. Shall I give you a clue? It’s in Holland. Another clue? It’s not a cheese!
Oh all right, then. The answer is L’Amsterdam!! L’hamster? L’Amsterdam? Geddit, geddit?!
I’m also a sucker for Monsieur et Madame X ont un fils/une fille jokes. Monsieur et Madame Zarella ont une fille, comment s’appelle t-elle? (Mr and Mrs Zarella have a daughter, what’s she called?) You have to think corny, here.
Really corny. It’s Maude. MaudeZarella? Mozzarella. Told you it was corny. There are thousands of these jokes.
Watching stand-up comedians is a great way of learning good jokes.
There are lots of clips on YouTube as well as on television, if you don’t live near a live comedy club.
Probably the most established of them all is Gad Elmaleh, often called the “French Seinfeld” because they both riff on the lunacy of everyday life. His routines about shopping in Ikea on Saturday morning are classics.
Another comedian worth catching is Florence Foresti, often called Madame Foresti. She came to fame as part of all-woman trio Les Taupes Models (which sounds like “The Top Models” but actually means “The Mole Models”) and cemented her position when she hosted the 41st César film awards. Try to catch her hysterical routines on motherhood.
And while you’re on YouTube, don’t miss Nuf Nuf à l’école des charcutiers, a short cartoon about an over-enthusiastic piglet in a ham-making class. Funny, but also a very black comment about the stupidity of those who blindly follow the rules. It cracks me up every time.
My current favourite French joke is: “J’ai raconté une blague sur un magasin hier... ca n’a pas supermarché.”
And if you want a bi-lingual joke, let me leave you with this one: “The One-Two-Three cat and the Un-Deux-Trois cat had a race across the English Channel. Which of them won? The One-Two-Three cat won because the Un Deux Trois Quatre Cinq...”
Have you spotted a funny name of a hairdresser’s, shop or restaurant in France? Share them via firstname.lastname@example.org
Curl Up and Dye
Serious newspapers have tried to analyse some of the humour in salon names, with Le Monde finding there are 2,320 hairdressers with Hair or Tif (slang for hair), more than 10% of the 22,000 total.
Gold medal went to Créa Tif which was used by 134, followed by l’Hair du temps, but hairdressers had plenty of original thinking to come up with Un Hair de Famille, Atmosp’hair or D’Pech Mode.
There were also several versions of Hair France... which was rivalled by the 10 salons of the group RyanHair, although they are in Luxembourg.