Getting a Shave in Paris France
by Mark Twain

Mark Twain visits Paris it what he expects?

Lo, we stood in magnificent Paris France!

What excellent order they kept about that vast depot!

There was no frantic crowding and jostling, no shouting and swearing, and no swaggering intrusion of services by rowdy hackmen.

These latter gentry stood outside--stood quietly by their long line of vehicles and said never a word.

Marche Parisien
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A kind of hackman general seemed to have the whole matter of transportation in his hands. He politely received the passengers and ushered them to the kind of conveyance they wanted, and told the driver where to deliver them.

There was no "talking back," no dissatisfaction about overcharging, no grumbling about anything.

In a little while we were speeding through the streets of Paris and delightfully recognizing certain names and places with which books had long ago made us familiar.

It was like meeting an old friend when we read Rue de Rivoli on the street corner; we knew the genuine vast palace of the Louvre as well as we knew its picture; when we passed by the Column of July we needed no one to tell us what it was or to remind us that on its site once stood the grim Bastille, that grave of human hopes and happiness, that dismal prison house within whose dungeons so many young faces put on the wrinkles of age, so many proud spirits grew humble, so many brave hearts broke.

We secured rooms at the hotel Louvre, or rather, we had three beds put into one room, so that we might be together, and then we went out to a restaurant, just after lamplighting, and ate a comfortable, satisfactory, lingering dinner.

Dinner on the Terrace
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It was a pleasure to eat where everything was so tidy, the food so well cooked, the waiters so polite, and the coming and departing company so moustached, so frisky, so affable, so fearfully and wonderfully Frenchy!

All the surroundings in Paris France were gay and enlivening.

Two hundred people sat at little tables on the sidewalk, sipping wine and coffee; the streets were thronged with light vehicles and with joyous pleasure-seekers; there was music in the air, life and action all about us, and a conflagration of gaslight everywhere!

Street View of La Tour Eiffel
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After dinner we felt like seeing such Parisian specialties as we might see without distressing exertion, and so we sauntered through the brilliant streets of Paris France and looked at the dainty trifles in variety stores and jewelry shops.

Occasionally, merely for the pleasure of being cruel, we put unoffending Frenchmen on the rack with questions framed in the incomprehensible jargon of their native language, and while they writhed we impaled them, we peppered them, we scarified them, with their own vile verbs and participles.

We noticed that in the jewelry stores of Paris France they had some of the articles marked "gold" and some labeled "imitation." We wondered at this extravagance of honesty and inquired into the matter. We were informed that inasmuch as most people are not able to tell false gold from the genuine article, the government compels jewelers to have their gold work assayed and stamped officially according to its fineness and their imitation work duly labeled with the sign of its falsity.

They told us the jewelers would not dare to violate this law, and that whatever a stranger bought in one of their stores might be depended upon as being strictly what it was represented to be. Verily, a wonderful land is Paris France!

Then we hunted for a barber-shop. From earliest infancy it had beena cherished ambition of mine to be shaved some day in a palatialbarber-shop in Paris France. I wished to recline at full length in a cushionedinvalid chair, with pictures about me and sumptuous furniture; withfrescoed walls and gilded arches above me and vistas of Corinthiancolumns stretching far before me; with perfumes of Araby to intoxicatemy senses and the slumbrous drone of distant noises to soothe me tosleep. At the end of an hour I would wake up regretfully and find myface as smooth and as soft as an infant's. Departing, I would lift myhands above that barber's head and say, "Heaven bless you, my son!"

So we searched high and low in Paris France, for a matter of two hours, but never abarber-shop could we see. We saw only wig-making establishments, withshocks of dead and repulsive hair bound upon the heads of painted waxenbrigands who stared out from glass boxes upon the passer-by with theirstony eyes and scared him with the ghostly white of their countenances.We shunned these signs for a time, but finally we concluded that thewig-makers in Paris France must of necessity be the barbers as well, since we could findno single legitimate representative of the fraternity. We entered andasked, and found that it was even so.

I said I wanted to be shaved. The barber inquired where my room was. Isaid never mind where my room was, I wanted to be shaved--there, on thespot. The doctor said he would be shaved also. Then there was anexcitement among those two barbers! There was a wild consultation, andafterwards a hurrying to and fro and a feverish gathering up of razorsfrom obscure places and a ransacking for soap. Next they took us into alittle mean, shabby back room; they got two ordinary sitting-room chairsand placed us in them with our coats on. My old, old dream of blissvanished into thin air!

I sat bolt upright, silent, sad, and solemn. One of the wig-makingvillains lathered my face for ten terrible minutes and finished byplastering a mass of suds into my mouth. I expelled the nasty stuff witha strong English expletive and said, "Foreigner, beware!" Then thisoutlaw strapped his razor on his boot, hovered over me ominously for sixfearful seconds, and then swooped down upon me like the genius ofdestruction. The first rake of his razor loosened the very hide from myface and lifted me out of the chair. I stormed and raved, and the otherboys enjoyed it. Their beards are not strong and thick. Let us draw thecurtain over this harrowing scene.

Suffice it that I submitted and went through with the cruel infliction ofa shave by a French barber; tears of exquisite agony coursed down mycheeks now and then, but I survived. Then the incipient assassin held abasin of water under my chin and slopped its contents over my face, andinto my bosom, and down the back of my neck, with a mean pretense ofwashing away the soap and blood. He dried my features with a towel andwas going to comb my hair, but I asked to be excused. I said, withwithering irony, that it was sufficient to be skinned--I declined to bescalped.

I went away from there with my handkerchief about my face, and never, never, never desired to dream of palatial Parisian barber-shops anymore.

The truth is, as I believe I have since found out, that they have no barber shops worthy of the name in Paris France--and no barbers, either, for that matter.

The impostor who does duty as a barber brings his pans and napkins and implements of torture to your residence and deliberately skins you in your private apartments.

Ah, I have suffered, suffered, suffered, here in Paris France, but never mind--the time is coming when I shall have a dark and bloody revenge.

Someday a Parisian barber will come to my room to skin me, and from that day forth that barber will never be heard of more.

At eleven o'clock we alighted upon a sign in Paris France which manifestly referred to billiards. Joy! We had played billiards in the Azores with balls that were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than a brick pavement--one of those wretched old things with dead cushions, and with patches in the faded cloth and invisible obstructions that made the balls describe the most astonishing and unsuspected angles and perform feats in the way of unlooked-for and almost impossible "scratches" that were perfectly bewildering.

We had played at Gibraltar with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square--and in both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement.

We expected to fare better in Paris France, but we were mistaken.

The cushions were a good deal higher than the balls, and as the balls had a fashion of always stopping under the cushions, we accomplished very little in the way of caroms.

The cushions were hard and unelastic, and the cues were so crooked that in making a shot you had to allow for the curve or you would infallibly put the "English" on the wrong side of the hall.

La Tour Arc De Triomphe
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Dan was to mark while the doctor and I played. At the end of an hour neither of us had made a count, and so Dan was tired of keeping tally with nothing to tally, and we were heated and angry and disgusted.

We paid the heavy bill--about six cents--and said we would call around sometime when we had a week to spend, and finish the game.

Le Petit Zinc Restaurant
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We adjourned to one of those pretty cafes in Paris France and took supper and tested the wines of the country, as we had been instructed to do, and found them harmless and unexciting. They might have been exciting, however, if we had chosen to drink a sufficiency of them.

Go to Mark Twain's main page after Paris France.

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