Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lessons in French: How to Say "Mullet"

In my four years of living in Croissant-and-Baguetteland, I am happy to report that going throughout life isn't always a high fashion runway that requires you to look your absolute best. While French women certainly make a point to look slightly more chic and elegant to their male counterparts, one isn't obligated to look ready to go to a party. What is expected in French dressing sense is that you look presentable: never leave the house in pajamas, keep your bits covered with reasonably lengthy attire, don't look like you just rolled out of bed then went straight to the shower.

Being someone who is perpetually late*, I've been able to cut some corners and get away with wearing just a minimal amount of make-up (lipstick and moisturizer) and my otherwise unkempt hair is kept in a tight bun. I admit that cartoon me, who is always sporting flouncy, untamed locks, is not the best representation of my day-to-day existence.

Sorry if I mislead you guys. 

*Unless I have to catch a train. I'm almost never late for trains. And if I AM late, its nice to know that I can always count on the SNCF to have my back with their own tardiness.

Still, living far away from the familiar American shores and all of the subtle cultural nuances from back home, I never, NEVER thought that I would see the day when I saw a French person sporting the dreaded Mullet. For those who are not in the know, the Mullet is a particular hairstyle that is reputed for being a "business in the front, party in the back" cut, meaning that it provides an odd combination of commencing with what would seem a normal short hairstyle that is abruptly tapered by a long mane.

When you look at a Mullet, you get the uneasy sensation that something is aesthetically off. Heck, when pronounced with an American dialect, the word itself is phonetically unpleasant.

I'd like to imagine that it was probably created by someone who was inept at cutting their own hair and, rather than admitting to their friends it was an accident, decided to convince them all that it would be the latest trend to rock trailer park communities.

Yes, the humble Mullet, with its short, spiky fringe and cascading rear, insinuates a stigma that the wearer is an uneducated, low-income loser who is probably addicted to beer and trucker hats, and terrible movies like Joe Dirt certainly didn't help to improve that stereotype.

Those who are brave enough to sport the Mullet effectively have placed themselves to be a laughingstock in American eyes and are portrayed as being as American as apple pie, bald eagles and Old Glory.

So imagine my horror shock when on one fine Saturday morning I encountered a Frenchman sporting this American hairdo.

Then imagine my further urge to regurgitate my lunch shock when I saw that the Frenchman's wife also sported a Mullet.

Then, dear reader, place yourself in my shoes when I resisted the desire to urgently call child services to report parental abuse saw that their two kids also had Mullets of their own! An entire French family with Mullets!

The Mulet Family Portrait

I was struck dumb. Had American cultural invasion to surreptitiously integrate itself into other countries finally taken its toll? Was I going to start seeing more and more beer pong parties with red Solo cups being advertised on T.V.?

(Of course not; France doesn't need to advertise alcohol, duh.)

After the initial wave of confusion ebbed and flowed from my mind, I courted the idea that perhaps this little odd family was just a one-time fluke. But then I attended the town's carnival and to my surprise, I spotting some more children donning the hairstyle! What is going on, I thought. This isn't right... I tried to reason that this style couldn't possibly be on the rise in France. No Mullet-based craze had yet to hit the runways in Paris and even in my most dreary days in Dijon, I had yet to have spotted a local wearing said 'do. Maybe, just maybe, the Mullet was concentrated to the area I reside in the Sarthe département.

I decided to consult my theories with my hairstylist, but since she is French and I didn't know the French term for "Mullet" (nor if there even WAS a term for it), I resorted to describing the physical aspects of the style.

"Have you ever seen a very particular hairstyle in which the hair is cut short in the front and kept long in the back? Do you know what I'm talking about?"

Her serene features scrunched when she cringed and she nodded.

"What is that hairstyle called in French?"

"Le Macgyver."

I unintentionally paused for emphasis.

"Le Macgyver?"

That bomb should nuke Macgyver's Mullet out of existence. 


"As in...?"


"As in the T.V. character?"

No amount of string and paper clips will let you worm your way from my wrath, Macgyver.

"Yes, that one."

I went to explain to her that I was extremely surprised to see the French sporting this hairstyle and had never seen one until I had moved to Sablé-sur-Sarthe. I mentioned to her the social stigma that the Mullet evokes back home and how people who wear it are considered to be very "particulier." She drew a sharp intake of air and said that a similar stigma also exists in France.

"Years ago, when the show aired, from its popularity, it started a craze and people wanted the same style. You see it less and less these days in France, but there are people who still have a hard time letting things from the past go."

Goddammit, Macgyver. Who knew you'd have this effect on deluded French people?

I then asked my hairstylist another question.

"Have you ever had somebody ask you for le Macgyver?"

Her brown eyes widened with the recollection of one woman who, despite my hairstylist's suggestions and pleas to consider other options, insisted on having her hair cut into a Mullet.

"I didn't even know how to go about this hairstyle! You see, haircuts are supposed to fit into a 'frame,' and le Macgyver, with its irregular combination of two different frames, made it very difficult to reproduce."

She then leaned next to my ear and, with utter scandal dancing in her tone, whispered,"Things about it just don't go at all because you can't distinguish when one part ends and another begins. It looks so bad."

AH-HA! Eureka!, I thought. No wonder the Mullet looks aesthetically unbalanced; it's because the techniques to style it aren't even right in the first place!

To console myself, asked my hairstylist to give me a non-Mullet cut for the special occasion of celebrating my last full day in my mid-Twenties*.

Take that, Macgyver.

Barb the French Bean

*I turn Twenty-Seven on April 6th. As people back home in Miami would point out, "Estás vieja."


  1. Hey Barb- Has it been four years that you are living in France already? I remember when you first posted you were going to move there!! How fast does the time fly!

    In my opinion, mullets, no matter what country they appear in, must die!! Mullets, are a fashion nightmare, anywhere, no matter what.

  2. Jaybird! :D

    It's been nearly two years since I moved to Sablé back in 2012, yet in total four years about experiencing French life. :) But, yes, time does indeed fly...unlike Mullets. That hairstyle is a terrible classic!

  3. Excuse me, mullets don't have balance? I believe business in front, party in back is a prime example of perfect harmonious balance. Or something like that.

    Also, if you're "estás vieja" then consider me "es polvo."

    1. Sí, eres polvo, mijo. Mala suerte para ti. ;)

  4. That's funny... I always sort of assumed the French would call it "Le Bill Ray Cyrus."

    Serge Gainsbourg kind of had a mullet-looking thing going on for a while during the Eighties, didn't he? And at least Bill Ray never filmed a "Lemon Incest"-style video with his daughter like Serge did.

    I might be off-topic by now. Your hair is way better than a mullet, although I doubt your ability to blow up the bad guys with a paper clip and a stick of gum...

    1. I'll have you know that a good friend of mine referred to me as having "killer's eyes," so maybe I'll be the bad guy instead. :P

    2. And Serge Gainsbourg is just in a whole category of his own. --.--

  5. It's lucky that you asking her about the mullet didn't make her think you wanted one :p

    1. Indeed! Although, knowing her, even if I had BEGGED her to have cut my hair into a Mullet, she probably would have talked me out of it.

      Perhaps you should consider getting yourself a French stylist in the Netherlands. :P


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